A group of players in one of New Jersey's best high school football programs allegedly hazed teammates extensively – enough to warrant a criminal investigation and to cancel the remainder of Sayreville War Memorial High School's season, district superintendent Richard Labbe announced on Monday night.
"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 said in a news conference held after a two-hour closed meeting with parents. He did not comment on whether the coaching staff was involved.
The Sayreville Police Department and Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office are handling the investigation. The allegations were made directly to the police, and school officials have not been told who filed the report. They were first informed of the investigation on Thursday morning, prompting the district to cancel the Oct. 2 football game just hours before kickoff.
While school officials carefully avoided the word "hazing" over the weekend, the father of a freshman told NJ.com that his son and others would “stampede” to the locker room to dress after practice, hoping to get out before the seniors could “push around” the freshmen.
Vincent Marra, whose 14-year-old son is on the freshman team, described a culture of fear and intimidation inside the Sayreville program… ’It’s weird, because I see kids outside the locker room, putting their clothes on, rather than be in the locker room and doing it,’ Marra said. ‘Because maybe they don’t want to be the one or two kids that are left in there when the seniors come in and they do whatever the hell they do.’
CBS 2 News has reported that the alleged abuse was “sexual in nature.”
Parents interviewed by NJ.com showed no sympathy for the potential victims. Earlier that day, a group created a Facebook page supporting the coach, who has led the team to three state sectional titles in the last four years. The cancellation applies to the varsity, J.V. and freshman teams. It will automatically end the school's 20-year playoff streak.
Sayreville becomes the latest to come down harshly on hazing allegations. In 2013, Skidmore College canceled the men's soccer season, and Cornell University canceled the men's lacrosse fall season. A middle school in New York canceled the football season in 2012, a Nevada high school football program did the same in 2011, and a California high school wrestling team saw its season cut short for hazing in 1997. The list goes on, and there are examples in every sport.
Perhaps the most famous incident came in 2003, when Wellington C. Mepham High School in Long Island, N.Y., canceled the football season. In that case, according to a New York Magazine feature story, the victims were sexually assaulted during training camp. They were further harassed at school after reporting the incident. Labbe is determined to avoid a similar situation in Sayreville.
He added that support officers from the police department will be at the school moving forward "so once we do learn of the courageous kids that did come forward, we will go to all measures to protect them.”
There was initial confusion when the Oct. 2 game was canceled, with many thinking that the cancellation was due to a separate incident. Assistant coach Charles Garcia was arrested and charged with steroid possession after he was pulled over with two sealed boxes of steroids and 14 syringes in his car last week, but on Friday, Labbe held a news conference to say that the cancellations were not related to Garcia’s arrest. Garcia has resigned from his position, and police are also investigating that case. The game, and ultimately the season, were canceled, though, because of the "inappropriate conduct at a significant and serious nature."
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Danielle Elliot is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter!