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Murray: Birthplace of the High Five

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by Angela Hatton & Chris Taylor

The high five is now a popular symbol of excitement recognized and enacted across the country. What you probably don’t know is the high five originated right here in western Kentucky. Murray State University is the birthplace of the gesture. Now the local Chamber of Commerce is declaring next Saturday, High Five Day in Murray.

References to “high five” gestures can be traced back to 1850 in Daniel Kamenetz’s play Among Combatants, in which he references “a salutation of slapping palms.”

But what we think of as a high five is more recent. Murray State Sports Information Director Dave Winder says MSU basketball players began using it on a limited basis in the late fifties.

Chris Taylor met Winder in the Racer Athletics office below Stewart Stadium and he was at first taken aback. When he went to shake his hand, Winder left me hanging.

[Sound of knocking]

“Mr. Winder, Chris Taylor, WKMS.”

“Hey, Dave Winder, but actually we don’t shake hands anymore we high five.”

Winder explains a proper high five takes both technique and coordination.

“You have to make sure the high fiver and the high fivee have their hands at the proper level so there’s a good smack,” Winder says. “Your elbow has to be parallel to the ground and then there has to be some timing involved between the two parties.”

Winder says his Department is instituting a new policy as well.

“No longer are we doing handshakes at Murray State Athletics. We now high five whenever we meet.”

Mayfield resident Harold Leath graduated from Murray State in 1957, with a degree in Business Education.

“I was there before they named all the building after the teachers, the professors that I had at the time,” explains Leath.

Leath says he first saw basketball players use the high five during games. He and some of his friends picked it up soon after.

“And we high-fived everything then. If Dale OK’ed a date for tomorrow night, Bingo, my buddy and I would high five.”

Leath says high-fives were mostly a guy thing, with few women using them. He doesn’t know where the name came from, but says he first heard students calling it ‘a five.’

It wasn’t until the late seventies that the high five made it from cult gesture to phenomenon with a charismatic Murray State basketball player: Lamont Sleets. Ron Greene coached Sleets in the late 70s and early 80s when the basketball team began grabbing attention in the Ohio Valley Conference Championships.

The team won the OVC three times during Greene’s tenure. Greene remembers giving Sleets a high-five himself.

“I couldn’t refute that,” Greene says, “I just remember that that’s something that they did. It wouldn’t surprise me. I couldn’t validate it or non-validate it, but I know he could get up high and he could give fives. He’s the one that got them because he was such a great player.”

Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce President Lance Allison says the city will honor Sleets by promoting the first Murray High Five Day on April 9.

“We all know that the radio was created in Murray, and how we have gotten left behind on the recognition for that,” Allison says. “Those things that we have produced out of this county and city, the credit has been taken for all across the nation, so we have decided that High Five Day is something we’re not going to let go of. And we feel like it goes along with our customer service theme we have going on this year.”

Allison says nearly 400 of the Chamber’s 680 members plan to offer high-five discounts during the day. Customers who high five an employee will get a five percent discount on their purchase.

Allison hopes to get the Murray mayor and Calloway County judge-executive to sign a proclamation making Murray the permanent official home of the high five.

“I guess maybe a week or so ago, they started putting up share the road’ signs. Well, what a lot of people don’t know is we’re looking at putting up share the five’ signs. And we’re going to put them up all around the business community and the city mainly,” says Allison.

The movement to promote high fives in Murray may be too late, as other moves threaten to replace it in popularity. Again, Dave Winder.

“Although it’s being threatened by the fist bump, the high five is our official handshake; the fist bump is not,” says Winder.

Winder remains hopeful MSU athletes will be slapping skin well into the future.




Written by Chris Taylor

April 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

3 Responses

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  1. Good one! You got me 🙂


    April 1, 2011 at 9:48 am

  2. Is the whole thing a joke, or just part of it? Because it says something about Murray State in the high-five Wikipedia article.


    April 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  3. […] Murray: Birthplace of the High Five ( […]

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