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Directive on Postgame Handshakes Strikes Nerve in Kentucky

A string of recent postgame confrontations between rival teams in Kentucky has jeopardized the long-standing tradition of handshakes among student-athletes after athletic events.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association issued guidance Tuesday stating that following the conclusion of high school athletic contests, officials have "no role in what goes on in postgame, including handshakes."

The original wording of the statement, however, caused mass confusion.

It instructed teams and individuals to "not participate in organized postgame handshake lines/ceremonies beyond that interaction that is required ... (i.e. the awarding of a bout winner in wrestling) and the individual unorchestrated actions by individual competitors," according to The Courier-Journal. That led to a slew of headlines along the lines of "Kentucky school teams told not to shake hands after games," which quickly evolved into a public-relations nightmare for the association.

The association's commissioner, Julian Tackett, issued a clarification on the original statement at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, noting that "nothing about this situation is etched in stone as far as postgame procedures." So long as schools ensured that postgame handshakes are properly supervised, they are allowed to continue, the commissioner said.

"The directive to member schools is simple," Tackett wrote. "Don't do it, UNLESS you can properly supervise it. And if you don't supervise it (or if you do and problems occur), then you will be held accountable."

By the time he posted that update, however, the story had already gone nationally viral. That prompted Tackett to issue a second, separate clarification on Wednesday, taking responsibility for the "poorly worded" initial guidance.

" In an effort to create a different category, not a rule, not a policy, but more than a recommendation or suggestion, we chose to use the word directive, which has many meanings, one of which is to be a synonym for prescription (as in: recommendation from authority). In the end, that decision was the beginning of a series of opportunities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In addition, two very closely related parts of the original statement were not pieced together: the directive/prescription/suggestion, and the opportunity to continue if supervised; and therefore many people who read the first part, but didn't read the second, drew an erroneous conclusion."

Long story short: The KHSAA hasn't banned postgame handshakes, but it isn't requiring them, either. And if a fight breaks out during a postgame handshake line, schools could face punishment.

That directive rankled state Rep. Steve Riggs, who announced on Wednesday afternoon that he'd begin drafting legislation to take away the association's power to fine schools for postgame rituals.  

"It clear the commissioner of the KHSAA has gone radically overboard in trying to change sportsmanship traditions by issuing directives and fines. He has cited rare instances in which the post game handshake has led to fights. They currently have the ability to punish the player and that's exactly where the punishment should be directed. It is illogical to punish all teams from softball to basketball for the bad actions of a scant few."

And thus, the Great Postgame Handshake War of October 2013 rages on.

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