CONWAY — About a dozen protesters, seeking justice following an incident in which a wild duck was lured from Lake Winnepesaukee, beaten and killed by Kennett High School football players last month, drew a mix of thumbs-up and middle fingers Friday when they stood in front of the school during a home game against the Pembroke Spartans.
Absent was the organizer of the protest, local optometrist Angelique Sawyer, who last week told school administrators she was concerned they were not enforcing the student code of conduct.
Sawyer has been using Facebook to organize the protest of the administration, which she said “is failing our students.”
However, she was conspicuously absent from the protest. She shared her reasons for skipping the event in an email to the Sun:
“With still so much hostility and negativity rampant in the community, I had no way to separate the respectful and constructive efforts I was attempting,” said Sawyer.
“Others still planned to protest the incident and the students themselves. I did not want to be associated with that, so I removed myself. I wish peace and healing to the families involved.”
Although an extra police detail had been requested in advance of the protest, all went peacefully on Friday night. “Overall, it was a very good night with little to no issue at all,” said SAU 9 School Superintendent Kevin Richard on Monday.
“People were respectful of students and the community, and the support for athletes, band members, dance team members was excellent,” Richard said.
“Those who wished to protest eventually went to the designated, prominent location, and we appreciate their cooperation.”
Principal Kevin Carpenter also said he thought Friday went well. “We had an outstanding crowd on hand. The few individuals that did show up to protest did so very peacefully and respectfully, and although they did not necessarily like the location, they did go there and were very good about it.
“I was very happy that we had a great turnout, particularly since they are trying to raise money and bring awareness around childhood cancer, something very personal to this team.”
Sawyer had wanted to protest near the football field, while administrators requested she stay near the front of the school.
There were no arrests from the protest, Conway Police Lt. Chris Mattei confirmed Monday morning.
The duck controversy followed a Kennett-sponsored football camp on the grounds of Camp Winaukee in Moultonborough from Aug. 20-22, which was attended by 56 Kennett football players and eight chaperones. The site was leased by the school, and the camp’s owners and management had no involvement in the football camp.
While at the camp, some players lured a duck out of the water and then beat it with a broomstick, recording a video of the incident and posting it on the internet.
The duck, which was injured, was euthanized by another member of the team.
Coaches learned about the killing less than a week later. It led to the Eagles bowing out of an annual jamboree held at Laconia on Aug. 27.
According to school district members, three to five boys, believed to be juniors and sophomores, were suspended from playing several games in the nine-game season; they also must perform community service and undergo mental-health assessment counseling. However, Sawyer and other protesters felt the district didn’t go far enough in punishing the perpetrators.
On Friday, as fans were entering Millen Stadium before the game, Richard and Conway Police Sgt. Russell D. McLauchlan were observed repeatedly asking a handful of protesters to leave the area of the stadium and move to the front of the school where there was a designated area for them to stand.
Protesters said some of those driving up Eagles Way to the game supported them with thumbs-up while others were less polite.
Protester Debbie Pollina of Fryeburg, Maine, said she felt being moved was “ridiculous.” She and her husband, Brian White felt the players involved should not be allowed to play football for the team again. But she said she was glad the players were going to have some counseling.
White said he was a college and high school teacher at Danvers High School, and he also coached five sports during that time, including football.
“If any one of my kids did anything even short of this they would never see the light of day again; they would never play on any of my teams,” said White, noting such a student’s sports participation would be “over with.”
Another protester, animal advocate Laura Slitt of Bartlett, said she believes there is a link between how animals are treated and violence in society. She wants to believe the school is handling the situation.
“To a lot of people, this is just a duck,” said Slitt, who said she wants a more “humane society.”
Carole Cotton, a summer resident of the valley, was parked along Eagle’s Way in a van that on the hood featured a stuffed animal shaped like a duck and a helmet with a bumper sticker that said “mean people suck.” “I think what happened is atrocious,” said Cotton, who felt that someone on the team should have stopped the duck from being hurt.
Catherine Kyle and her husband, Robert, of Conway said they had never protested before. But, Catherine said, “We feel as though this administration and the school board has let us down, they let the whole community down.” She said school officials need to release more information and also bar the students from ever playing football for the school again. “Football is a privilege, not a right,” she said.
Cathie Gregg said she was at the protest as a concerned individual from Conway and not as a representative of the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife in Madison, where she is executive director. She said the athletes involved are not being held to the code of conduct and should be prevented from playing for the rest of the season.
She said the center is receiving donations for a duck statue in their memorial garden. “I’m here for the duck because the duck is getting lost in all of this community anger,” said Gregg. “I’m here for me, and I’m here for the duck.”