Football Players In Sayreville, N.J., Charged In Sexual Assault
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Sayreville, New Jersey would rather be known for almost anything other than what the town is known for right now. It's an industrial city by the Raritan River. It has a history of making bricks and making gunpowder. Instead, Sayreville is known for a scandal notorious enough that we need to warn you, you may not want children to hear this report, which is about three minutes long. Sayreville is trying to come to terms with allegations that teenage football players carried out hazing rituals that included sexual assault of teammates. Sarah Gonzales of member station WNYC has more.
SARAH GONZALES, BYLINE: The Sayreville Bombers have won three sectional football titles in the past 40 years. They are a source of pride for residents, like Tony Consolo and Christine Render.
TONY CONSOLO: Oh, they got a good team. They got a real good team.
CHRISTINE RENDER: I graduated in 1978 from the high school. And we still go to the football games.
CONSOLO: They had some good teams. Yeah, they were pretty hot.
GONZALES: Just four games into this high school football season, Superintendent Richard Labbe abruptly canceled the remainder of the season, freshman, JV and varsity. At the time, he said it was because football players were harassing, intimidating and bullying each other. He said it was happening a lot and that football players knew about it. His decision divided much of the community.
(SOUNDBITE OF MEETING NOISE)
GONZALES: At a school board meeting last week, parents and community members complained that punishing the entire team was an overreaction and that some of their kids futures depended on football. That was before details emerged that the alleged harassment at Sayreville was sexual. Now parents like Phelarn Curry say protecting students needs to be the priority, not football.
PHELARN CURRY: I adore the program, you know, myself. But in light of what's going on, something needs to happen. And you've got to stop and look at what you have before you can go on and move forward.
GONZALES: The state's primary print and online news outlet, NJ Advance Media, published a story based on a parent's description of a harrowing locker room ritual. Upperclassman would allegedly make a howling noise, and the lights would go off. According to that parent, older team members would pick up his son, a freshman, and pin him down. The attacks allegedly involve penetration of a sexual nature. Seven players, ages 15 to 17, have been arrested for assault on four members of the team. The charges include aggravated criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual contact and hazing, for engaging in an act of sexual penetration.
SHEILA BROWN: To me, hazing was what hazing was when we were in school.
GONZALES: Sheila Brown lives in Sayreville.
BROWN: You threw a kid in the shower or you made fun of them or something like that. This, to me, is beyond hazing. It's beyond comprehension.
GONZALES: She supports the superintendent's decision to shut down the football program.
BROWN: I find it hard to believe that the football team as a whole didn't know what was going on. And as long as that's the case, he was absolutely, absolutely right in canceling the season.
(SOUNDBITE OF NOISE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL)
GONZALES: Outside of Sayreville High School, students are still wearing football sweaters and T-shirts in Sayreville blue and gray. Many say, first, figure out what really happened, and punish the ones who are responsible, not everyone. They say it's not fair. It's unclear whether any adults at the school were aware of the alleged assaults. The state gets 30 days to decide whether it will pursue charging the 17-age students as adults themselves. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzales in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.