CONWAY — While calling the killing of a duck by Kennett High School football players appalling and “a very good example of very bad behavior,” Conway school officials and the head of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, respectively, are defending the multiple punishments meted out to the players despite an online campaign which says they’re insufficient.
On Tuesday, Col. Kevin Jordan of Fish and Game said that in the latter part of August, the Kennett Eagles football team was attending a football camp in Moultonborough on Lake Winnipesaukee when a group of players eating lunch fed some nearby ducks in the water.
When one of the ducks came up on shore, a player hit it multiple times with a broomstick, seriously injuring the bird, said Jordan. Another player intervened to stop the assault, and fearing the duck was mortally wounded, killed it in an effort to put it out of its misery.
Several days later, Kennett High officials obtained a cellphone video of the incident that was shot by a third player and conducted their own investigation while also notifying Conway Police and Fish and Game. Fish and Game followed up, said Jordan, and agreed that what the school proposed for the players was the best course of action to educate them about what they had done wrong and to prevent it from recurring.
On Monday in a prepared statement, Kevin Richard, Superintendent of Schools, SAU 9, and Joe Lentini, the chair of the Conway School Board, said the players, who were not identified because they are minors, received “varying levels of consequences and supports.”
Although the statement did not say so specifically, the consequences included “disciplinary action” that Jordan was told by Conway school officials meant between one-to-two game to between four-and-five game suspensions, depending on the player’s culpability and involvement.
The players also received “educational programming;” mental health assessments; and are required to perform community service that involves the players working with animals.
Jordan acknowledged that there was a glitch in the community-service component, which school officials are working to correct, in that some animal-welfare groups cannot accept the players because of their involvement in animal abuse.
Finally, Richard and Lentini said there would be no more overnight football camps for the Eagles, who are scheduled to host Pembroke Academy at home on Friday.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a Change.org petition entitled “A harsher Punishment for Kennett Eagles Football Team” had received more than 2,300 signatures with a goal of 2,500.
The petitioner, who identifies herself as a Kennett student, said she was “disgusted that you’re ONLY OUT FOR A COUPLE OF GAMES. I truly wonder what made you do this. I am 100% ashamed to walk the same halls as you at school. 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.”
Jordan said he understands the anger against the Kennett players but added that the public should also understand that “these are kids, are still human beings,” who, unfortunately, “made a huge mistake.”
Jordan said Kennett officials told him that numerous threats have been made against the players.
Asked why Fish and Game did not prosecute the players, Jordan replied that the agency’s job is more about changing people’s behavior to comply with the law, rather than punishment.
Because the players were minors, Fish and Game could have cited their parents for illegal taking of a duck, but that is a violation-level offense that carries a maximum $1,500 fine and no jail time, he said.
Since the punishment would be borne by their parents, the players might not as fully appreciate their wrongdoing, said Jordan.
He praised Kennett and Conway school officials for their actions and also gave kudos to the unknown player who had the courage to speak up, stop the attack, and, when he believed it was the only and right thing to do, for putting the duck out of its misery.
“At the risk of making people angry,” Jordan said leaders at Kennett High acted appropriately in their response to the killing of the duck.
Rather than let a law-enforcement agency handle the matter, the school “stood up,” he said, “and we should all be happy about that.”