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The top stories of the year

Events in 2023 had major impacts on the community

Courtesy of Deptford Township Police Department
“Bobby gave everyone and everything his all,” said Robert Shisler’s sister Ashley of her brother, the first Deptford police officer to die in the line of duty.
A policy created by Don Bozzuffi (foreground) bans unruly Little League spectators unless they umpire three games, “so (they) get an idea as to what it’s like for these volunteers.”

A lot happened in Deptford Township in 2023 that had major impacts on the community, including changes in the school district and collective mourning for a fallen police officer that drew residents together in support of each other.

A new school superintendent

The year kicked off with a leadership change in the schools as Kevin Kanauss – previously the district’s chief academic officer – held the roles of both interim and superintendent in 2023. He replaced Superintendent Arthur Dietz, who resigned on Jan. 1.

“He has left the district in a very good place, and I hope to carry the torch for him entering the year 2023,” Kanauss said of his predecessor.

Kanauss was interim superintendent until the board of education’s April 4 meeting, where he was officially given the top position. His three-year term will end on June 30, 2026.

“Once again from me, and I’m sure a lot of the board members feel the same way, I don’t think we could have had a better pick,” board Vice President James McDevitt told Kanauss. “We got a young, energetic and young family, and I think you’re going to do really great here.

“I’m proud to say that you are no longer the acting superintendent, you are our superintendent, and we’re glad to have you and we wish you luck.”

Little League ‘umps’

Deptford’s Little League program attracted national and international attention in the spring of 2023, after it introduced a new rule to combat abusive treatment of umpires from unruly spectators: Ban offenders unless they agree to umpire three games, so they can see firsthand the challenges of officiating.

The policy was created by league President and Deptford resident Don Bozzuffi and sanctioned by the program’s Code of Conduct Committee.

“Ninety-nine percent of fans are calm and well-behaved,” Bozzuffi explained. “It’s just that 1% that ruins it for everybody. They think they and their kid are being slighted, but they’re not. It was fine for a while, but we’re losing volunteers now because of it. 

“The whole idea is to show them how hard it is (to be an umpire) and that close calls are not always easy,” he added. “If they want to call the game from 35 feet away, then they can come closer and see what it’s really like.” 

Reaction was positive from people inside and outside the league and the new rule got attention from the likes of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” USA Today and CBS’ “The Talk.” The township council named named Bozzuffi its citizen of the month for May.

“He literally made international news with this plan he came up with at Deptford Little League to try and avoid confrontation at games,” noted Mayor Paul Medany. “A lot of us up here, we’ve coached all the different sports in Deptford Township, so we kind of know that people can get a little bit excited.”

A fallen officer

The spring in Deptford brought with it a tragedy that left the community mourning for months: the death of township police officer Robert “Bobby” Shisler.

Shisler was wounded on March 10 while trying to apprehend a suspect who was killed during the struggle. An outpouring of support came from the Deptford community, with several events held to raise funds for the Deptford resident while he was hospitalized, including a blood drive on April 10.

But “Bobby” Shisler succumbed to his injuries on May 7, and became the first township officer killed in the line of duty. He was 27 years old.

“Officer Shishler dedicated his life to the service of the residents of Deptford Township,” said Police Chief Joseph Smith after the officer’s death. “He helped ensure the safety of our community, where he was born, raised, lived and worked.

“We want to thank the Deptford community for the tremendous outpouring of support,” he added. “The last few weeks have been extremely difficult, and your constant acts of kindness have helped in these challenging times.” 

Shisler’s funeral was held at Rowan University’s Pfleeger Concert Hall and drew thousands of people from near and far who paid their respects to the fallen officer, including police departments across the country and even Canada and the United Kingdom.

“It was our greatest honor to bring you home today,” Deptford police Sgt. Sean Gambale said of Shisler. “You are the best of all of us. People who don’t know you wonder how you fought so hard for so long, how you defied the odds over and over again when a normal man would have given up. We were not surprised in the least. You are, and always have been, the strongest person we know.”

“Bobby gave everyone and everything his all,” noted Shisler’s sister Ashley. “He was brave, devoted, fearless and so selfless. Rest in paradise, Bobby. We got it from here. I love you forever and I’ll miss you always.” 

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