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Opinion: Handshake Policy is Ham-Fisted Fix to Perceived Problem

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Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch
All Rights Reserved


The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
October 17, 2013 Thursday
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
629 words
Kentucky wrong to ban postgame handshakes;
Michael Arace, The Columbus Dispatch

Consider the handshake.

There are 823 secondary schools under the jurisdiction of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which sponsors championships in 24 sports. Not every school fields a team in every sport, and participation varies from school to school and sport to sport. But we at least can estimate the number of postgame handshakes in any given year.

Let us figure, roughly, that there are 15 games per sport per season. Multiply that by 15 athletes per team, times 24 sports, times 800 schools -- and it adds up to 4.32 million postgame handshakes shared among student-athletes in Ohio. And that is a conservative number.

What would happen if we took all of them away?

Last week, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association directed its member schools to forgo handshake lines. The KHSAA took this action as a response to more than two dozen incidents of postgame violence that cropped up across the state over the past year.

Kentucky's "ban on handshakes" was interesting enough to draw the attention of a number of media outlets, including the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. It certainly caught the eye of anyone who is involved with high-school sports.

"We were just about to go into a staff meeting when I heard about it," said Dan Ross, who is in his ninth year as commissioner of the OHSAA. "We were absolutely surprised. Everyone was looking at each other, saying, 'You've got to be kidding me.' We talked about it. We asked, 'What would it take for us to do something like that?' We couldn't think of anything."

Two things should be noted here: Ross will not comment directly on Kentucky because he cannot know the thought process that goes into a decision made in another state; the KHSAA directive is more nuanced than initial headlines would have one believe.

True, the KHSAA directs that "teams and individuals do not participate in organized handshake lines/ceremonies." It also warns that officials who take a role in postgame activities might be subject to fine, and that coaches and administrators also might be subject to fines if incidents arise on their fields.

At the same time, the KHSAA leaves room for the no-shake directive to be ignored, as long as coaches and administrators provide supervision and report any untoward incidents.

To my ear, it sounds like KHSAA officials are trying to address what they see as a problem -- but they are doing it in an unseemly and ham-fisted manner. They are covering their own rear ends while threatening fines to any adult who might be in the vicinity of a postgame flare-up. They are handing off a responsibility that should be theirs to manage.

"We've had incidents -- there was one five or six years ago after a girls basketball game in Akron that spilled into the stands -- but we didn't punish every school in Ohio," Ross said. "We try to get to the scene and say, 'How do we plan together to make sure this doesn't occur anymore?'

"We're educators, and our job is to provide solutions to problems our kids might have."

Sportsmanship is at the core of the mission of high-school sports. It is embodied, in real and symbolic terms, in the postgame handshake. Ross holds this in fervent belief.

"It's extremely important," he said. "We stress sportsmanship and dealing with people on different teams with honor and integrity. You might not like the result of a game, but you should respect the game itself, and your opponents. A handshake is an important part of that."

The KHSAA message is troubling. It says, "If your kids shake hands, you might get fined." It loses sight of one of the primary reasons adolescents should be participating. It places two dozen incidences of violence above millions of acts of grace.

Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

marace@dispatch.com

@MichaelArace1

Photo
Barbara J. Perenic / DISPATCH Tanner Cline of New Albany, left, and Will Lucas of Olentangy shake hands after Friday's football game.
October 17, 2013

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