SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- The annual Scotch Plains-Fanwood PAL Football summer camp appeared to have been a big success last week until an accusation that a sixth grader with special needs was bullied by older boys brought a sour note to the camp's conclusion on Thursday morning.
Kenny Lickman, a coach who guided his sixth grade team to a Super Bowl appearance last fall, reported the incident to PAL president Shawn Johnson and then took his grievance public shortly afterwards on Thursday in a Facebook post:
I am outraged and disappointed in the 8th grade boys that bullied my 11 year old son today during football camp. A group of 8th graders singled him out and made fun of his last name while no one assisted. They then proceeded to remove his cap from his head and threw it around with complete disregard for his pleas to stop. What type of boys are we raising?? How dare they collectively bully a younger child in a public forum with no one intervening!!
Shawn Johnson, president of the PAL, was present at the camp on Thursday and said he had not heard of any incidents of bullying at the time. Lickman emailed Ken Hernandez, who ran the camp and informed Johnson of the situation.
"The problem is that he didn't give time to do an investigation or give us a chance to intervene," Johnson told TAPintoSPF. "When horseplay occurs, the counselors and campers intervene. Kenny wasn't there, and his son did not tell him. His information came from other kids. I'm upset because Kenny labeled it 'bullying' without even giving us a chance to look into it."
Johnson said that during his phone conversation with Lickman, he expressed his displeasure that Lickman had not given the PAL time to conduct due diligence and "insinuated we were okay with it (bullying)."
On Friday afternoon, Lickman announced that he had been fired as a volunteer coach.
I was informed earlier this morning (Friday) by the PAL President that I was relieved of my position as head coach of 7th grade PAL as a direct result of posting the bullying incident that my son experienced yesterday at football camp.
I am being penalized for stepping forward and protecting the rights of my child. I took immediate and appropriate action to address the harassment and expected to receive support from my fellow PAL members. Instead, I received a phone call informing me of my dismissal in a most explosive and inappropriate manner.
Lickman said he posted this bullying incident "in an attempt to promote community awareness regarding such acts of aggression."
We are relying on our community to support us in instilling the values of tolerance toward others and securing a safe environment for our son and for everyone’s children. As parents of a special needs child, we are asking our friends and neighbors to show sensitivity in regard to this issue. Instead, punitive action was taken against me for passionately expressing my desire to protect my son.
Lickman added that he is "baffled that this issue still remains unaddressed."
We need to create an anti-bullying policy with our sports teams and provide constant reminders that bullying will not be tolerated. We posted the incident since all bullying should be reported to the community because parents need to take the proper measures to prevent such occurrences in the future.
"I'm not insensitive to this. Bullying is nothing to play around with. Why not let us look into it and see what happened? He didn't give us any time," Johnson, Scotch Plains PD's juvenile detective, told TAPintoSPF.
"I had just gotten off the phone with him when I saw the social media post just minutes later," said Johnson, who believes the post was already made before his conversation with Lickman.
"We are on the same team, but we are not playing the same play. He cast negative shadow without giving us a chance to investigate or to discipline the kids," said Johnson, who is meeting with the PAL Board to discuss the incident and the organization's policies against bullying. "What he said about why he was dismissed. That's an absolute lie."
As it stands now, Lickman will no longer be coaching the (rising seventh grade) team. However, if his son is interested in playing in the fall, he would be welcome to play, according to Johnson, who has served on the Board of the PAL for 18 years and has been its president for the past 5 years.
A meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday at 5:00 p.m between the Lickmans, Ken Hernandez, Shawn Johnson, and Coach Austin Holman.
"We are not anti-PAL," Christine Lickman told TAPintoSPF. "We want them to look into their policies and speak with these older boys and talk to them about tolerating others' differences. How can they fire Kenny when he was only speaking up for his son? We have gotten a lot of support from other families."
"I'm baffled by all of this," she added. "It has caused a lot of stress on our family."
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