Kentucky officials issue sad directive asking schools to stop postgame handshake lines

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

There are a number of reasons why scholastic sports hold a revered place in American culture, but increased sportsmanship is always pretty near the top of the list. Apparently that motivation is now being put firmly in the back seat in Kentucky, where state officials have instructed schools to stop participating in the tried and true pastime of postgame handshake lines.

New Brighton and Beaver Falls boys basketball teams go through a postgame handshake line — Sabella Sports Shotz
New Brighton and Beaver Falls boys basketball teams go through a postgame handshake line — Sabella Sports Shotz

As reported by a variety of outlets across America, including Rivals.com affiliate Kentucky Preps, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) issued a directive instructing sports teams to stop participating in handshake lines after games unless they are required or previously prescribed. The directive also holds that game officials are not allowed to oversee the handshake line and will be penalized if they do.

The startling shift in postgame etiquette stems from a troubling track record of violence that begins in the handshake line in Kentucky in recent years. When announcing the directive, the KHSAA cited more than 24 previous incidents of violence that were reported as players shook hands with one another after a game.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett told USA Today that the directive is not an outright ban, instead insisting that it allows for teams to hold handshake lines if they police them on their own. Essentially, what the directive is aimed at doing is passing the buck for responsibility for monitoring post game interactions onto schools and leagues themselves.

"We need them controlled," Tackett USA Today. "If you can't control them, don't do them."

As other states scrambled to investigate their own policies regarding postgame protocol, many like Indiana discovered that they don't have specific established standards.
Now that Kentucky's policy is explicitly defined, many of the state's athletic directors are struggling to find ways to marry the importance of sportsmanship to an event where their players can't shake hands with their opponents.

"I don't know what you can do," said St. Xavier athletic director Alan Donhoff, who nonetheless argues that the postgame handshake is a valuable teaching moment for young athletes.

"We begin our games with a sportsmanship statement from the National Federation, and then we're going to end them with no handshake? To me, as an athletic director and a supporter of high school athletics, I’m having a really hard time with that," he said.

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