SAYREVILLE – In wake of the recent negative publicity surrounding the Sayreville War Memorial High School football program, one student has made it her mission to shed a positive light on the program.
Kennedy MacFadyen, 17, a senior at the high school, has created a video that highlights some of the contributions the team has made to the community.
“I wanted to do this because the news was portraying them as bad people,” MacFadyen said. “I want people to remember the good things they have done for the town. I have a ton of good friends on the team and I know none of them are bad people. I’ve never had a bad encounter with any football player. I just want everyone to know that the football team has good people and they will continue to be good people as the generations move forward.”
The Sayreville high school football team was thrust into the national spotlight last year when seven Sayreville players, aged 15 to 17, were criminally charged in connection with the alleged hazing and sexual assault of four teammates inside the high school locker room. The alleged hazing and sexual assaults took place during a 10-day period beginning Sept. 19, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. All of the criminally charged players have been suspended from school and none will be tried as adults.
Superintendent of Schools Richard Labbe canceled the remainder of the 2014 campaign at all levels on Oct. 5, but announced earlier this month that the football season will resume in 2015.
None of the coaches have been criminally charged. Four assistants were suspended with pay from their tenured teaching positions on Oct. 16, but all were reinstated on Nov. 18.
Veteran head coach George Najjar has been suspended indefinitely with pay from his tenured physical education teaching position at the high school since Oct. 16, the day the school district commenced an internal investigation into his football program.
Najjar also was stripped of his responsibilities as the school’s strength and conditioning coach, a title that top assistant Mike Novak has assumed.
MacFadyen said she was very upset when the allegations surrounding her high school’s football program surfaced.
“I cried a little bit because it is sad, but we have to move on and recover,” she said.
MacFadyen created the video for an assignment in her Communication Arts Through Television class, taught by David Kaiserman.
Each student was charged with the task of creating different community oriented topics that are school related, Kaiserman said, adding that while he helped with some of the technical aspects of the video, the content and views are MacFadyen’s thoughts.
“From a technical perspective, it was very well put together and it represents her voice about the issue and how she believes the world should see the issue,” Kaiserman said. “She really captured what she was trying to say very well. It was a very mature piece. She chose to take a professional news stance on the issue and create a real documentary. She did capture the true essence of what news reporting and documentaries are all about.”
MacFadyen said she was originally going to do a documentary on the football season, but the season was cut short.
“I decided I wanted to show everyone that they’re good people and that they’ve done good things for Sayreville,” she said. “That’s what the video shows.”
MacFadyen took bits and pieces of her original video and made the new video, which was about four months in the making.
“I knew they helped during Sandy because I live by Weber Avenue,” she said. “I saw the press clippings in the newspaper. I came in contact with the Touchdown Club and asked what other things they have done. They also have helped to feed the homeless and this year they wrapped utensils for Elijah’s Promise. They are also planning on helping seniors with their fall cleanup.”
While MacFadyen has made other videos in the past, she said none, except this one, “actually made a statement.”
“It was a little hard to do because I wanted to make sure that everything was perfect before I sent it out anywhere,” she said. “I worked really hard on it.” .
The video includes clips from football players, such as peer leader and football and baseball captain Daniel Rodriguez, 17, a senior at the high school.
“I thought it was a great idea when she asked me to be interviewed for her project because I felt like it can help change the view of the Sayreville football program and the Sayreville football team and shows what we do for the community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said helping the Sandy victims left him with “such a good feeling.”
“I was a sophomore then,” he said. “It meant a lot helping people in need. Coach Najjar was always big on that. It was a great opportunity for us to help the community when it needed it most. I feel that not only as a football team, but as a person, you should always help others.”
Rodriguez said he hopes the video will shine a better light on the football program. He said he hopes viewers will come away with a new perspective on the team and “not stereotype the whole Sayreville football team and the whole Sayreville football program.”
MacFadyen said the video has been well received.
“After it went up, I got a lot of thank yous from teachers, staff and ballplayers,” she said.
“I think she did a great job,” high school principal Jim Brown said. “The communication arts program has always done good work and this is just another example of that. Kennedy and I talked and she said the video was not meant to be a political statement. It was an emotional statement. Unfortunate things happen and we shouldn’t all be painted with that same brush.”
Although she will be graduating this year, MacFadyen who loves football and is an avid Bomber fan, said she intends on returning to watch future football games.
“I will come back for the first game of the season and for homecoming,” she said. “I would like to come to all of them, but college might stop me from doing that.”
MacFadyen’s video can be viewed on mycentraljersey.com, as well as the school’s website and app.
Staff Writer Susan Loyer: 732-565-7243; firstname.lastname@example.org