KHSAA director apologizes for lack of clarity in recommendation to stop post-game handshakes

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 9, 2013 

The end of the line? Franklin County and Dunbar teams took part in a traditional — and civil — post-game handshake after a tournament game in May.

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On day two of a statewide fuss over post-game handshakes, the director of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association tried to further tamp down the furor, but not before the issue hit the national news and lawmakers started calling for action.

Meanwhile, the state's two largest school districts said they were sticking with the handshake tradition, and another reversed its reversal.

"We were very reluctant yesterday because we felt it was a directive and we had no choice, but now that it's been cleared up, we're going back to the traditional handshake," said Rick Ross, superintendent of Mason County Schools.

On Wednesday, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett sent out another clarification of Tuesday's directive, which he is now calling a recommendation, to avoid post-game handshake ceremonies because of past fights between teams.

"It was my responsibility to ensure clarity," Tackett wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "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."

Tackett said his intention was to create a new category of administration to help guide schools on how to avoid post-game conflicts.

"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)," Tackett wrote. "In the end, that decision was the beginning of a series of opportunities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation ... "

The original piece that went out stated: "It is directed that teams and individuals do not participate in organized post game handshake lines/ceremonies," but that language was softened late Tuesday afternoon.

What Tackett meant, he wrote, is that if high schools wish to have their teams shake hands, they must monitor the activity closely, and game officials and referees, who are independent contractors with the KHSAA, don't have to be part of it.

"There is no ban or prohibition on such activity today or contemplated for the future," Tackett said.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, took to social media and the radio to air his disapproval of what he described as a backing away from sportsmanship.

"I think the most important thing we can do as adults is teach kids responsibility and basic civility," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The most important thing about sports is sportsmanship. We've had two dozen incidents in three years, so we're saying we can't do it anymore? That's a real problem for me."

Hoover said he had received many calls in the past 24 hours complaining about a lack of oversight for the KHSAA. He said his staff is already researching what legislative steps could be taken to create more accountability.

Currently, the KHSAA reports to the Kentucky Board of Education, which oversees any change in official KHSAA policies.

In the past, the KHSAA has made changes to its policies under pressure from lawmakers.

For example, in May 2009 the Kentucky Board of Education got rid of a controversial policy on court rulings that lawmakers had publicly criticized. The change meant high school officials no longer had to fear penalties or warnings from the organization when they allowed athletes to compete because a judge had ordered them to.

In 2009, KHSAA officials also made two other changes that lawmakers wanted. They hired an in-house attorney to keep down legal costs, and officials tried to reduce the time it takes to determine a transfer students' eligibility.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said Wednesday that he would prefile legislation to remove the KHSAA's authority to fine schools or athletic personnel. Tackett had said that schools could be fined if post-game activity turned into a fight.

"When the General Assembly created the KHSSA, it did so to help foster pride, athletics and school spirit in Kentucky — not to create a government agency out creating fines out of thin air," Riggs said. "My legislation is going to reiterate and clarify this fact and hopefully remind the KHSSA to focus on its mission of high school athletics."

For now, both Jefferson County and Fayette County schools will keep on shaking hands after games. Jefferson County Assistant Superintendent Kirk Lattimore put out a memo to principals and athletic directors on Wednesday reminding them that they are responsible to ensure that the ceremony happens without friction.

"Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace," Lattimore wrote. "Ask coaches to remember that very few of our students will be college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to be able to demonstrate character at crucial times."

Fayette County had roughly the same message. "For now, we will continue to shake hands," said district athletic director Don Adkins. "As athletes, we should learn to lose with a little bit of dignity and a little bit of class and we should learn to win with a little bit of dignity and a little bit of class."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359.Twitter: @lbblackford.

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