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Hazing scandal cancels football season
02:54 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Head coach and four assistants suspended with pay, get salary cuts

An alleged hazing ritual results in charges against seven high school football players

Upperclassmen allegedly turned off the locker room lights, howled and abused freshmen

Superintendent: "Incidents of harassment, intimidation"

CNN  — 

In a statement, Labbe said the board of education “takes this matter extremely seriously and thus will continue to make the safety and welfare of our students, particularly the victims of these horrendous alleged acts, our highest priority.”

Sayreville War Memorial High School made the announcement Tuesday, but the suspension with pay has been in effect for five days for coach George Najjar, Edward Mish, Michael Novak, Mark Poore and Timothy Ballard.

Salaries were also cut for Najjar, Novak and Mish, according to a school document.

The alleged harassment may have been an ugly rite of passage for rookie football players to ascend to the ranks of more senior gridiron warriors, but upperclassmen hazing the freshmen are accused off crossing a legal line.

Seven of them have been charged. Prosecutors are not naming them because they’re juveniles.

Lights out, jeers, attacks

Cloistered in the dressing room, older players allegedly flipped off the lights and filled the room with jeers as they sexually accosted four of their younger targets in four separate incidents.

The complaints allege that between September 19 and September 29, one or more of the teens “held the victims against their will, while other juvenile defendants improperly touched the juvenile victims in a sexual manner,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey and Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski said in a statement.

They penetrated at least one of them, prosecutors allege.

Officials have not disclosed details, but a Sports Illustrated article indicated that it likely did not involve intercourse.

Three players stand accused of aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration.

Four more players, plus one of the first three, face counts of aggravated assault, conspiracy, aggravated criminal sexual contact, hazing and riot for allegedly participating in the attack, Middlesex County prosecutors said.

Dashed pride

Sayreville is proud of its team’s years of on-field triumphs. The Bombers took the state championship three out of the past four years and had launched into a promising season this year.

Shame in the wake of the scandal has emptied the bleachers, silenced the cheers and snuffed out the floodlights.

School Superintendent Richard Labbe halted this year’s football season over the alleged incidents, which he called pervasive. He claimed players knew about them, tolerated them and accepted them.

Now parents used to applauding their sons’ conquests on the field are upset they have been benched for the duration.

They are at odds with parents and players over who broke the allegations. And fear of jail time for players haunts the working class neighborhood.

City government has called in clergy to begin the healing process.

Opinion: Sayreville football team case went far beyond hazing

CNN’s Yon Pomrezne contributed to this report.