Football players at one Parlin, N.J., high school had their season cut short this week amid horrific hazing allegations.
After cancelling a game scheduled to take place Oct. 2, Sayreville War Memorial High School released a statement the next day that read in part, “the decision to cancel and ultimately forfeit yesterday evening’s varsity football game...was made due to significant allegations that were brought to the attention of the high school and district administration, which if true, would indicate that inappropriate conduct of a very serious nature had taken place within the high school football program.”
It didn’t take long for details of those allegations to begin leaking out.
On Wednesday, a parent of one of the players in the program recounted some of the alleged specifics to Matthew Stanmyre of NJ Advance Media:
It came without warning. It would start with a howling noise from a senior football player at Sayreville War Memorial High School, and then the locker room lights were abruptly shut off. In the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen. Then, the victim would be lifted to his feet while a finger was forced into his rectum. Sometimes, the same finger was then shoved into the freshman player's mouth.
This happened “almost every day in the locker room this fall,” the parent told Stanmyre. Sources confirmed similar details to SI.com reporters Emily Kaplan and Greg Hanlon.
After meeting with parents of football players Monday evening, Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe announced the decision to cancel the remainder of the season.
“There was enough evidence to substantiate there were incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level, and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated, and in general accepted,” Labbe told reporters following the meeting.
The district’s board of education unanimously upheld the decision to cancel the season Tuesday evening, per NJ Advance Media’s Vernal Coleman.
“I feel for these kids,” board member John Walsh told Coleman. “But we have a moral, legal, and ethical obligation to ensure the safety of every student, and that supersedes any extracurricular activity.”
The precedent-setting decision to cancel the season could prove costly for the district, legal experts told NJ Advance Media’s Tim Sherman. Not only could victims of the alleged hazing sue; “equipment suppliers, bus companies, or sweatshirt manufacturers [could sue] for breach of contract,” Sherman wrote. A local personal injury lawyer told the paper that some parents of players on the team approached him about the prospect of suing the district over “the perceived loss of college scholarships and chances to play Division I football, now jeopardized by the lost season.”
In leaked audio from the parents-only meeting obtained by NJ Advance Media, Labbe said there was “no evidence to suggest that any staff members were aware of what was going on until last week.” There was also no record of “any student prior to last week report[ing] to authorities of being bullied or harassed,” the superintendent told parents.
Middlesex County prosecutor spokesman Jim O’Neill told SI.com that there is “no timeline” for the completion of the investigation into the alleged hazing. Thomas Buck, who served as an assistant Middlesex County prosecutor in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, told NJ Advance Media’s Tom Haydon, “The people in the prosecutor’s office have no reason to want to prolong this, but if there’s any indication that something happened, then this would not be over quickly.”
Based on the reports from NJ Advance Media, SI.com, and others, it appears as though this story won’t be going away anytime soon.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.