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Future of football team rocked by hazing unclear

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People hold candles as they gather for an anti-bullying rally Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Sayreville, N.J. The central New Jersey town has been rocked by allegations of hazing on its football team that prompted the cancellation of the rest of the season. Organizers say the goal of the event is to promote unity and healing within the community, as well as to show support for the victims of bullying.
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SAYREVILLE, N.J. >> The New Jersey school superintendent who canceled a high school football season after allegations of hazing among students said he is weighing whether to restore the program after this season.

Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe told NJ.com that he’s not sure the football program at Sayreville War Memorial High School will return based on the severity of the charges leveled against seven players on Friday.

“I will say clearly: Whether we have a football program moving forward is certainly a question in my mind,” Labbe said. “Based upon the severity of the charges, I’m not sure.”

Labbe said he has to look at the results of the investigation and is waiting for more information from the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office.

Seven students face sex-crime charges stemming from the alleged hazing. Three were charged with aggravated sexual assault, criminal restraint, hazing and other crimes stemming from an act of sexual penetration upon one of the children. The other four students were charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and other crimes.

District officials said Sunday that all seven have been suspended.

“I just think that based upon everything that has occurred, I just need to make sure that we recognize what football is,” Labbe said. “It’s just a game. And as soon as it becomes more than just a game, it opens up to situations like this.”

Hundreds of people turned out for a rally Sunday night that sought to promote unity and healing within the community and show support for the victims of bullying.

The rally was staged in a park across the street from the school, Sayreville War Memorial High.

“We need to come together to support each other, our children, our community and most especially the young men who spoke up,” organizer Maureen Jenkins said in an emotional speech.

Participants were given balloons, ribbons, stickers and candles. They were asked to walk around the lake at Kennedy Park and release the balloons or show other forms of support.

Alex Simon, 24, a Sayreville native who recently moved to Connecticut to attend law school, said he came home for the event to show support for his community. Simon attended schools in the town and served for a time as a substitute teacher in the school district.

“This will be a long recovery process for our community, but this is a good first step,” Simon said of the rally. “I’ve talked with lots of people (about the hazing claims) and they were upset about it, but I think this event is a good way to start getting things better. I’ve always loved this town and will always support it.”

At least one player on the football team attended the rally. Junior Justin Quitanilla arrived with his family wearing a Sayreville high school game jersey, NJ.com reported.

Asked why more players did not attend, Quitanilla said many of those he approached were “afraid of what others would think about them if they did.”

“I’m just here to show support,” he said. “Sayreville strong.”

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