On Saturday, a fight erupted during an East Coast Football Association game, and one man was shot in the shoulder. Pennsauken officials say the game was unauthorized, and included players from states on the NJ travel advisory list.
By Matt Skoufalos | August 25, 2020
A fight that broke out during a semi-pro football game on Saturday sent one man to the hospital with gunshot wounds, and Pennsauken detectives on the trail of his attacker.
Around 9 p.m. August 22, police were called to the area of Crescent Field, also known as “The Pit,” a synthetic-turf football field in the 4200 block of Burrwood Avenue.
The facility, where the Pennsauken Youth Athletic Association (PYAA) organizes youth games, was hosting an East Coast Football Association (ECFA) men’s league contest between the DMV Legends of Washington, D.C. and the Tri-County Owls of Pennsauken.
According to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO), the game was halted after a fight between the players spilled off the field and into the parking lot.
Details are scant, but investigators say that as the fighting carried on, someone fired multiple gunshots within the fray, hitting someone affiliated with the visiting team in the shoulder. The victim was transported to a nearby hospital and is in stable condition, but the search for the shooter continues.
Meanwhile, Pennsauken officials are trying to understand how the game transpired on township property at all without their knowledge. In a video message Monday, Pennsauken Mayor Tim Killion described the contest as an “unauthorized event” of which the township had “no formal notice.”
Killion seemed incensed to learn that the game had happened at all, let alone before an estimated crowd of a few hundred people.
The mayor decried both the shooting and the fact that players participating in the game had traveled from as far away as Delaware and Maryland, both of which states were on the New Jersey COVID-19 quarantine travel advisory list at the time it was played.
“There needs to be complete and total accountability for what happened, and those who made this extreme error in judgment will take responsibility for both their actions and inactions,” Killion said.
“The selfish actions of certain individuals have fractured our community’s trust and put our residents at risk,” he said. “We will not stand for this, and we will do everything in our power to prevent this from happening again.”
Township resources were required to clean up the fields and grounds at the complex, which has been closed for future use, Killion said. The mayor also banned the Tri-County Owls from township facilities, and said he’s in talks with PYAA to learn how they accessed the field.
Killion said he’s contacted the New Jersey Department of Health to let them know the event should be tracked for any outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has already infected some 800 people in the township since March. He also condemned the absence of any precautions taken to minimize the impact of the out-of-state travelers on the local population.
“It’s obvious they were trying to fly this under the radar and they got caught,” Killion said.
“It’s disheartening, it’s disappointing; it’s not typical of our township.
“Fortunately, there’s only one person who got hurt; it could have been way worse,” he said.
“To have people come from out of state to play a meaningless football game in the middle of a pandemic is disgusting.”
It was only the second ECFA game for the Owls, which had recently quit their affiliation with the North East Atlantic Football League (NEAFL) after the cancellation of its 2020 season, said NEAFL Commissioner John Cieplenski.
“We closed the spring league because of the pandemic, and that was in March, so we lost our season,” Cieplenski said.
Both leagues comprise “a lot of players who didn’t get an opportunity to go to college, who are trying to go to college,” or who “come out of the professional leagues,” he said.
For the Owls, the ECFA may have represented a chance to salvage a few games, even in a pandemic-shortened season.
“The Owls never went over [to another league] before,” Cieplenski said. “The players put on the pressure; they were trying anything to get on the field.”
Semipro teams “crawl out of the woodwork every year,” he said, contributing to the fluidity of leagues that typically rely on access to public facilities to play their games. But the Owls are “a great bunch of guys,” and their owner, Lester Cream, “is first-class,” Cieplenski said, which made the alleged brawl difficult for him to fathom. (Cream declined to comment for this story.)
“This behavior, I’ve never had that in anything we’ve done in the NEAFL,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this since 2011, and we’ve never had a problem in our league.
“A lot of these guys are family guys,” Cieplenski said.
“This is a way away from hard times.”
ECFA President James Crowell, who hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said the Owls “really had no choice but to jump over into our league” if they wanted to continue playing in 2020.
NEAFL teams are drawn from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, but the Owls are the ECFA’s only New Jersey team. Except for the Philadelphia Gators and Delaware Nation, its other players live throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.
The visiting DMV Legends, of Washington D.C., typically travel “light,” only bringing some 20 friends and family members in addition to their 60-player roster,” Crowell said.
“Mostly everybody that was with us was family; I can’t speak for what they had on the Pennsauken side,” he said. “We had wives, a few kids; normal travel companions. They probably had about the same.”
But even upon traveling to Pennsauken for the game, Crowell said his team had no knowledge of the New Jersey interstate travel advisory, and denied having seen any information adver,tising quarantine requirements.
The Owls booked the field, and “we had no way of knowing it was unauthorized to be used,” Crowell said.
In the league’s 14 years, Crowell said Saturday’s violence “is the first, and will be the only time this ever happens.
“That you can bet on,” he said. “We’ve prided ourselves on being one of the best leagues in the country, and there’s over 1,100 semipro football teams. We’re pretty known; we don’t have this.”
While calling for investigators to bring in the shooter in Saturday’s game (“We want to get justice for our guy,” he said), Crowell also lamented that the incident would cast the league in a negative light.
“If you look at what’s going on in today’s society, there’s no program for young men, especially African-American men 18-35,” he said.
“What the league provides is that outlet,” Crowell said, adding that its 1,000 or so registered players have jobs and families.
“All the guys we touch and affect is a beautiful thing, and I just hate that somebody did this act, and it’s taking away from the good we’re doing,” he said.
“Our message is peace,” he said. “Our message is, ‘let’s be better men.’ I hate that that message is being stripped from us, and we’re being tagged with something that is not that.”
Despite agreeing on the value of athletics, Killion was unmoved by what he described as organizers of the game “trying to push off responsibility and accountability” for holding a large gathering during the pandemic.
“If they were so concerned about it, they should have gone through the proper channels, or the people associated with PYAA should have made sure the important things were done,” he said.
“For me, trust is critical,” Killion said. “Unfortunately, the leaders of PYAA broke that trust, and there’s going to be consequences for that.”
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call CCPO Det. Alex Burckhardt (856-225-5048), Pennsauken Police Det. Michael DiCamillo (856-488-0080, x2403), or to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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