The moments following the closing of Friday night’s district football games may seem strange to Escambia County spectators this week.
While sportsmanship will be expected before, throughout and following games, teams in Escambia County will limit post-game handshakes to solely team captains and coaches starting this Friday.
The handshake decision is not set in stone and is an experiment, according to Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and Escambia County Athletic Director Roger Mayo.
Thomas said area coaches and athletic directors presented the proposition to him earlier this week in an effort to “be proactive” in preventing unsportsmanlike acts following games.
“We are in no way leaving sportsmanship behind,” Thomas said. “This decision is an effort on my part to listen to what (Escambia County) athletic directors and coaches are requesting. If they want to make an adjustment here and they think it can work, I am willing to give it a try.”
The handshake decision has been talked about by county coaches and athletic directors for the past three years, according to Mayo. Mayo cited last year’s Pine Forest-Escambia district showdown and postgame scuffle as one of the incidents that has sparked the discussion between coaches.
“We’ve had a few football games this season where the game has been won or lost in the final seconds,” Mayo said. “There’s been several instances where things get heated and there might be a bang-bang play right at the end of the game. With 60 kids out there for each team, all it takes is that one kid to make the wrong gesture. Coaches can’t be everywhere at once to supervise.”
Escambia County is not the only county in the state to attempt this experiment. Post-game handshakes have garnered attention in recent years and now the Florida High School Athletic Association requires teams to film contests until both teams leave the field following the game, in the event that a fight breaks out and the FHSAA must make a ruling on suspensions or punishment.
It’s not just football. Mayo and Thomas both recalled heated basketball rivalries in Escambia County in the past years that got out of control following the game.
And it’s not always the players that are the “bad guys (or girls).”
“A lot of the (post-game) problems stem from the fans, it doesn’t always happen from the players,” Mayo said. “At basketball games, fans are right there on the floor with the players. At some football fields, there is no fences or barriers between the audience and the playing field. (At some Escambia county football games) it doesn’t take long before the track behind the end zone is full of spectators.
“The last thing you need is something to happen out there (on the field after the game) and get them (the spectators) riled up.”
So while Friday’s night post-game situations might seem odd, the mission for Thomas, Mayo and Escambia County coaches and athletic directors is to work together to minimize the chance for unsportsmanlike behavior.
“As the season becomes more competitive and games are closer, stakes are much higher for student athletes to demonstrate unsportsmanlike behavior,” Thomas said. “Teams will demonstrate sportsmanship before and after the game (with a captains hand shake before, and captains/coaches hand shake following the game).
“One of the most important things we can teach players of any sport is how to win and also how to lose.”