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Kentucky has the right idea

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 17. 2013 4:00AM

News item: The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (its version of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) issued a "Commissioner's Directive" last week, advising schools not to hold organized postgame handshake lines because of "too many fights and physical conflicts," the Lexington Herald Leader reported last week.

Reaction to the news item: Cue Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Finally. Common sense trumps affectation.

This is something we'd never see in Connecticut. Mostly because it requires somebody to make an unpopular decision in the face of a societal norm, insincerity of the act notwithstanding. Even in Kentucky, the language of the missive weakened after criticism on social media, the Herald Leader reported.

Nothing like having Twitter become our new moral compass, is there?

Still, give Kentucky mad props and bon mots for at least taking a souvenir chunk of one of sports' Berlin Walls. Kentucky isn't outlawing the act. Just making it voluntary. And with a stern reminder that supervision is a necessity.

"There are no rules requiring the postgame handshake, and too many times, there hasn't been enough supervision to stop conflicts during the ceremony," Kentucky commissioner Julian Tackett told the Herald Leader. "Students can still shake hands with other players voluntarily."

Now this bears relevance to our corner of the world. Twice during this high school football season, I've witnessed potentially volatile postgame situations, stemming, of course, from the absurdity of handshake lines and legislated sportsmanship.

Here is what should happen: When the football game ends, the coaches can shake hands if they want at midfield. Meanwhile, their teams go to opposite end zones to await the coach's arrival for the state of the union. The odds of a fight with players and coaches 100 yards apart lessen drastically.

Here is what's happened: Following the handshake lines after recent Stonington-Montville and NFA-Ledyard games, subsequent events led to potentially volatile situations.

Stonington-Montville: I witnessed one particular assistant coach act, shall we say, a little too exuberantly, thus irritating the head coach of the other team. The kids figured out what was transpiring, creating some uneasiness. And then the teams gathered around their coaches not 20 yards apart, rather than opposite end zones. One group celebrating, the other looking over angrily.

NFA-Ledyard: Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore was addressing his team on the same side of the field as the NFA student section, which was seated in the end zone. As Buonocore spoke, the NFA students rushed the field to greet the oncoming NFA players. Buonocore quickly moved his players to the opposite end of the field before anything occurred.

Again: Why was it not made clear before the game that each team goes to an end zone, NFA preferably to the one nearest its students?

Postgame football decorum was a topic of discussion at the most recent meeting of ECC athletic directors. Perhaps they should have paid closer attention.

If they're going to insist on handshake lines here God forbid someone stand up to social media and a few clods who think they wrote the sportsmanship manual then school administrators must be on the field to supervise and direct teams as far away from each other as possible when the game ends.

Meanwhile, perhaps we could learn something from Kentucky. Maybe we could consider leaving the choice of whether to shake hands to the parties involved. Want to shake the other guy's hand? Fine. Don't want to shake the other guy's hand? Fine. Because then at least there would be sincerity in the act.

And that's the distinction. A handshake does not necessarily symbolize good sportsmanship. A handshake symbolizes sportsmanship when both parties mean it. Kids are growing up with the legislated act of the handshake, not really having any idea what it means.

A handshake has some value when two people engage in eye contact and meaningful conversation. Have you ever seen a postgame handshake line after a high school game? A conga line of "g'game, g'game, g'game," usually with heads down or eyes elsewhere. It has all the substance of a video game.

But because we are conditioned to think that not shaking hands is unsportsmanlike, we force the kids into a perfunctory, hollow act.

I'd argue it's just the opposite of sportsmanship.

Because sportsmanship is about substance and a little humanity. Look your opponent in the eye. Shake the hand, don't slap it. Say, "good game" or "congratulations" or "you're a hell of a player" or whatever else comes to mind. Not have some meaningless act forced on them that looks good, accomplishes nothing and feigns sincerity. It teaches insincerity.

So while we teach insincerity here, let's at least make it safe. Opposite end zones. How about we start Friday?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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