HILLARY SMITH: End of the line on handshakes? No dice

2013-10-13T21:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: End of the line on handshakes? No diceHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 13, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

In the span of a quick few days last week, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association went from commandment to criticism to control on an issue of sportsmanship.

Initially, the KHSAA issued a proclamation explaining that schools were recommended to cease the practice of postgame handshakes after incidents during the "good game, good game, good game" line at football, soccer and volleyball matches in the state this season.

Then, after outrage quickly spread from coast to coast, the association clarified the policy: it's about officials. The KHSAA explained that those reading too quickly saw "no handshakes" when what they meant was that officials would not be in charge of monitoring the handshake line, and that if something got out of hand, it was up to the schools to take care of it. To that end, maybe it's not a bad idea that schools eliminate the postgame congratulations.

Commissioner Julian Tackett wrote a blog post Wednesday explaining that there were concerns with the original declaration.

"It was my responsibility to ensure clarity," Tackett wrote. "In haste to get the information out, the normal expected quality control steps were not executed to ensure such clarity. For that, I apologize to our member schools."

But here's the thing: what is happening to force this recommendation in the first place?

For sure, the practice should never end. There's a time for intense rivalry and a time for a deep breath afterwards.

Playing with pride — and winning and losing with it — is as much a learning tool to student-athletes as the Xs and Os on a dry erase board.

Having said that, when did teaching sportsmanship stop?

At some point, the handshake line devolved from congratulations to going-through-the-motions to personal attacks. 

Several years ago, I attended a minor league baseball game with my sister and her family. My nephew was 5, and my sister insisted on staying through the end of the game for the postgame handshake. I explained they don't do that at the end of professional baseball games.

"What! Why?," she asked. "How will they remember it's just a game?"

And there it is. Coaches should remind players at every level that in the end, win or lose, regular season or postseason, it's just a game.

Trash talking takes away from the sportsmanship. Calling players names in the postgame handshake eliminates any good deed done on the field or court.

Why diminish that at all? That's not a rhetorical question, seriously, why minimize a great performance with a single bad act only to attack an opponent?

Eliminating the handshake isn't the right way to go. Even if it wasn't the intent of the KHSAA, it brought the real question forward: that is, why aren't coaches teaching athletes why the handshake is necessary in the first place?

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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