CONWAY — Citizens who turned out at the Conway School Board meeting on Monday in the Professional Development Center at Kennett Middle School were angry and looking for answers.
About half of the 15 spoke during the public comment portion, voicing unhappiness with the school district’s handling of football team members who were involved in the beating and killing of a wild duck at football camp last month in Moultonborough.
Some wanted the football players taken off the team; others demanded counseling for the students and even offered to pay for it; others asked where the adults were when the incident occurred. One said area businesses are balking at supporting Kennett athletics until stiffer penalties are handed down.
The 56-member football team, with eight chaperones, attended a Kennett High-sponsored football camp held on the grounds of Camp Winaukee in Moultonborough from Aug. 20-22.
While at camp, players lured a mallard duck out of the water with food and then beat it with a broomstick, recording and posting the incident 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 up to three games in the nine-game season; they also must perform community service and undergo mental-health assessment counseling.
Monday's meeting started with Superintendent Kevin Richard and Conway School Board Chairman Joe Lentini reading similar prepared statements (see full text below).
“The response by the school has been multi-faceted and includes disciplinary action, educational programming, mental health assessment and community service,” Lentini and Richard both said. “There will be no future overnight camps for the football team at this time.
Richard added: “The response by school officials is to do everything to make certain these students understand the severity and impact of their actions as well as take preventative measures to ensure that this will not occur again.”
Lentini said he was not aware of the incident until Sept. 4, and then immediately alerted the full board.
“Conway School Board members were appalled at the actions perpetrated by members of the Kennett High School football team while on a football overnight camp, as were many of you,” he said.
“The natural reaction in a situation such as this is to severely punish those involved. We must remember that we are a school district and our job is education of our children."
None of the other board members — Courtney Burke, Michelle Capozzoli, Randy Davison, Joe Mosca, Cheri Sullivan and Jessica Whitelaw — weighed in on the incident.
Lentini then opened the floor to public comments, which lasted for approximately 30 minutes.
Animal activist Laura Slitt of Bartlett said she wanted people to learn from the incident.
“While the incident has left us all feeling very upset ... it can also provide an opportunity and invitation to examine the larger issue of how the way we treat animals is connected to the ‘authorizing’ and tribalism that is dividing our communities, our country and people everywhere,” she said.
Slitt suggested that the district partner with the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine. On Tuesday, Richard said Kennett High School Principal Kevin Carpenter will be reaching out to Slitt to learn more about the institute.
Dr. Angelique Sawyer, a local optometrist, read a three-page statement.
“We are here today to implore this school board to uphold your duties and responsibilities in your elected role by re-evaluating the handling of the Kennett High School football incident and by taking more significant action,” she said.
“We are asking this board to examine this incident, the heinous and violent actions taken, the encouragement and condoning from the ‘spectators’, the audacity to film and share the incident, and the insufficient action taken by the coach, athletic director, principal and superintendent in this matter.”
She added: “It is quite obvious that the acts of these students are in violation of the student activities code. This is not simply unsportsmanlike conduct, this is not jeering the opposing team or refuting a referee. This is illegal activity. And not simply by the one shown to swing the broomstick in the video, but any who were present, participated in or simply bore witness to the luring of the duck and the actions that ensued.
“This is clearly a case of mob mentality. There are at least five boys visible in the video, the one filming the video, and several other voices adjacent to the videographer as well. While they may not have all swung a broomstick, there are clearly voices of encouragement and laughter. If every single student who was a bystander did not immediately come forward to report the incident, then they are equally in violation of the student activities code. We cannot excuse students for being part of this mob.”
Sawyer offered to contribute financially to help offset the cost for schooled training “on the inappropriateness of these actions.”
Wildlife rehabilitator Cathie Gregg of the Elaine Conners Center for Wildlife in Madison urged stiffer penalties for the athletes.
"As the director of the center I am disturbed by the actions and as a taxpayer in this town, I am angry and disgusted that my hard-earned dollars, that I earned off of saving the lives of wild animals, is going to this school district. Something more needs to be done.”
Parent Nancy Plante asked, “Where were the people who were supposed to be supervising these children because I believe in my heart that honestly these boys are not monsters,” she asked.
“They were left unsupervised. There was not an adult around or present when this was taking place. So, honestly, I feel like they have been let down.”
Another parent, Nicole Nordlund, said local businesses are not happy with the level of punishment being handed down for the players.
“I know several businesses have pulled all future funding for Kennett football, and that’s sad," she said, adding, "They’re not pulling the funding because of this incident, the incident happened. They’re pulling the funding because of the way the school reacted to it because nobody has apologized for a lack of supervision for these kids, and to be allowed to play football or be allowed on the athletic field at all after breaking almost every single rule.”
Despite the pleas, Richard and Lentini said Tuesday they are moving forward with the current plans in place for the students.
“We absolutely appreciate the people who offered constructive feedback,” Richard said. “We are hopeful that we can work with the community to educate and rehabilitate these individuals as well as prevent future events.”