Newport (Kentucky) Central Catholic athletic director Rob Detzel certainly hopes handshakes at high school athletic events don’t disappear anytime soon. “What would be next? Postgame text-shaking? That would a very sad day for high school athletics,” Detzel said. And he is certainly not alone.
Multiple athletic directors, administrators and coaches told High School Today that handshakes are still a vital standard for sportsmanship at athletic contests in all seasons regardless of the sport.
“It’s pretty simple to me – you don’t act right, you don’t play,” said Scott Kaufman, West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West High School athletic director. “If everyone followed this philosophy, we would not be having a debate on shaking hands.”
While traditional media and social media reports tried to stir up controversy involving the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s (KHSAA) directive from October 2013, there, in fact, was never a ban or prohibition on postgame handshakes or other good sporting behavior by the KHSAA, according to Commissioner Julian Tackett. In an October 9 blog post, Tackett said the KHSAA notice sent to member schools was not clearly communicated and said a ban on postgame handshakes had never been considered, contemplated or reviewed as an option.
The Kentucky association was simply noting that many incidents had occurred in Kentucky (more than two dozen in the past three years) and elsewhere where fights and physical conflicts had broken out during postgame handshakes. The KHSAA wanted schools to monitor the handshake activity closely and have the proper personnel in place at the event.
Officials are to leave quickly after contests and have no role in what goes on during the postgame. The KHSAA said game management and administration of the participating teams are responsible for what happens after the game.
“If we are doing our collective job, there should be no reason that two competing teams/players cannot acknowledge the hard work and effort each competitor has put forth during the game,” said Elliot Hopkins, who is in charge of the citizenship/sportsmanship programs for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Detzel’s example about texting instead of handshakes might sound silly, but everything in high school athletics can potentially be scrutinized. Sportsmanship is no different.
“There can be no alternative to looking in the eye of the opponent you just defeated or just lost to and say, ‘good job,’” Hopkins said.
Athletic administrators say sportsmanship should be promoted not only within teams and coaches, but throughout the entire community.
The NFHS has an effective sportsmanship program for schools to use. “Sportsmanship: It’s Up To You” is a campaign and resource kit to get a new athletic director on track with training and tools to create an environment of respect with their fans or improve the existing school or community culture.
“I think that sportsmanship (in any form) is a positive for any event,” said Richard Bryant, Liberty Township (Ohio) Lakota East athletic director. “In many cases we forget that regardless of the outcome, level of competition or intensity of the contest – we are watching high school kids perform skills that they love. I would expect that a coaching staff would prepare student-athletes to compose themselves after a game to show proper respect for their opponents, officials, fans and administration.”
Dr. Dan Ross, commissioner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), experienced sportsmanship on multiple occasions during this school year. Ross witnessed a closelycontested playoff football game in which both sides not only shook hands but wouldn’t leave the field after positively embracing.
In a game that received national media attention in early March, the OHSAA declared Cleveland St. Ignatius High School and Sylvania Northview High School co-state champions in ice hockey when the score was still tied after seven overtimes. The OHSAA, head coaches and school athletic administrators all agreed it was the best decision since many players were seriously fatigued on both teams.
Ross said both sides shook hands and both coaches were very cordial knowing the teams did the best they could. He said handshakes are an acceptable form of sportsmanship tied to multiple teaching opportunities.
“I think those things are very important because I think it’s a sign of respect,” Ross said. “And I think the integrity that it engenders is something we want to try to make sure the kids get early because they are going to carry that with them all through their life.”
Bruce Brown, Uniontown (Ohio) Lake High School athletic director, said the issue is very clear on whether schools ought to have a plan to teach sportsmanship.
“Ultimately, if interscholastic sports is meant to be an extension of the educational mission of the school and carries with it some of the same objectives in teaching skill sets to our students, then questions about if and when and how we deal with sportsmanship should be in the same alignment of goals for teaching,” Brown said.
Brown said Uniontown Lake High School has worked specifically with its conference – The Federal League – to create some very intentional opportunities to address sportsmanship. Some of those activities include pregame announcements by student-athletes, coaches and administrators identifying mission and expectations; awarding seasonal and year-end team “Sportsmanship Awards”; and having league retreats for the student-athletes to discuss their roles.
Brown said he has noticed an appreciable improvement with the atmosphere surrounding contests with regard to behavior from parents, students and fans. While the handshake is not the sole answer, it is certainly a critical component, Brown said.
“Taking that piece out of the equation, in my estimation, would be the same as ‘looking the other way’ and hoping that our students learn about sportsmanship in another manner,” Brown said.
Eric Taylor, football coach at Cincinnati (Ohio) Hills Christian Academy, is a former wrestling coach and said even in a competitive game or wrestling match, acknowledgement of an opponent’s effort shouldn’t be ignored.
“You will see the toughest, meanest guys go at it (in wrestling) and the next thing you know they are hugging,” Taylor said. “I don’t care how aggressive or how intense a competition will get –(a handshake) is a sign of respect and sportsmanship.”
Andy Olds, football coach at Kings Mills (Ohio) Kings High School, said he’s learned over the years that even coaches need to shake hands at midfield. Several years ago after meeting with a rival coach at midfield and exchanging some jokes and laughter, Olds was convinced the rival coach purposely “got me off my game with such an out-of-character visit between us.”
So the next year, Olds did not speak with the coach in pregame. Kings won the game but it took the disdain level up a notch. That offseason, the coaches found themselves at a football clinic where they realized they shared hobbies and similar interests and have stayed friends to this day.
“And you know what? He will still remind me of the time that I would not go out and greet him before that game so many years ago,” Olds said. “And it still embarrasses me to this day. So needless to say, (handshakes are) a part of sportsmanship that sends a great message to our players, fans, parents and administrators who are watching our every move.”
Mike Dyer is high school sports editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer. He has been covering high school sports in Ohio since 2000 and has been in Cincinnati since 2004. He previously worked for the Akron Beacon Journal and the Sun Newspapers. Some of his articles have also appeared in the Washington Post, Orlando Sentinel, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.