CONWAY — As the Kennett Eagles football team prepares to take on the Pembroke Academy Spartans tonight at 7 p.m. at home, a local eye doctor is planning a “peaceful protest” over the school district’s handling of an incident where some players were involved in beating a duck before euthanizing it.
Optometrist Angelique Sawyer, an owner of Conway Eye Care, says she is concerned administrators are not enforcing the student code of conduct. She is using Facebook to organize the protest of the administration, which she said “is failing our students.”
The exact location of the protest on the school grounds has not been worked out, with Sawyer wanting to protest in the parking lot between the school and the football field, and high school officials designating an area in front of the building. The officials say they are trying to take steps to make sure everyone is safe.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling for more sanctions on the football team is apparently going to be taken down.
The controversy is over an incident that took place last month. The 56-member Kennett football team, with eight chaperones, attended a Kennett-sponsored football camp on the grounds of Camp Winaukee in Moultonborough from Aug. 20-22. The campground was leased and the camp’s owners and management had no involvement.
While at 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 the annual jamboree 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.
In addition, officials said there will be no more overnight football camp, at least for now.
Many people in the community aren’t satisfied with the school district’s handling of the situation. Among them is Sawyer, who was one of more than a dozen people who vented at Monday’s school board meeting.
On Thursday, she alerted the Sun to a Facebook group called “Concerned Kennett High School Community.” The page outlines her call to protest.
“There will be a PEACEFUL protest at the Kennett Football home opener, in response to many community members feeling the duck incident has not been sufficiently handled,” Sawyer wrote.
“This protest is targeted at the school and school district administrators who have allowed all students involved in the incident to remain a part of the Kennett Football team. If students or fans in attendance want to join the protest, all are invited, but we will not engage anyone who does not express interest in joining the protest.
“There will be no harassing, booing or jeering of students/players. At this time, it is the administration that is failing our students by not upholding the Student Activities Code and removing students from the team, so it is the administration that needs to take appropriate action.”
Kennett Athletic Director Neal Weaver said Thursday, “If there are people who come to protest, we have some procedures we are trying to put into place to ensure everybody’s safety. Not only the fans, their families, the athletes but also the protesters themselves.”
The school’s plan includes having a designated area for protesters in front of the building and more police officers on detail. The players will take a different route to the stadium to avoid passing the protesters. The designated location for the protest will be clearly marked, Weaver said.
“The discussion between myself the principal and the superintendent has been that where they protest shouldn’t really be a factor if their purpose is just to protest what happened,” said Weaver.
“And so, we would ask them respectfully to go to that area we designated for them not only for, like I said, our fans, our athletes and their families’ safety but also for their safety.”
Sawyer said she wasn’t interested in protesting in a place that wouldn’t be seen.
“For now, I would say the protest will be in the parking lot between the school and the stadium,” Sawyer said Thursday, who said she would be in touch with Weaver.
Conway Police Lt. Chris Mattei said Thursday the school asked for three detail officers rather than the customary one or two.
“When they get up there, they will decide where their services are necessary,” said Mattei.
Meanwhile, a change.org petition calling for more punishment for the players, which was signed by over 4,200 people, is being removed by its creator, who is apparently a student named Taylor Garland of Bartlett.
“I am 100% ashamed to walk the same halls as you at school,” wrote Garland. “It is not tolerated by me or anything else and if it were me deciding your punishment, you would not be playing your 2019 football season. To all the people who let this happen as well, shame on you, too.”
On Wednesday, Garland posted an update saying, “”I have made the decision to remove my petition because the issue has been handled to a greater extent than I had originally thought,” said Garland. “It will be permanently deleted. Thank you all for the support!”
She linked to news reports that said that the students faced punishments based on involvement that included up to a suspension of five games, community service and counseling.