A New Jersey high school football program could be in jeopardy after seven players were charged in connection with a hazing investigation.
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Sayreville War Memorial High School canceled its season last week as details emerged from a Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigation. District Superintendent Richard Labbe says the program could remain dormant for longer than just this season.
“I will be making that very, very difficult, but very, very important decision as to whether to have a football program at Sayreville,” Labbe told ABC News.
Labbe said he is awaiting further information from the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office.
Seven Sayreville students – ranging in age from 15 to 17 – are scheduled to appear in court this week, facing sex-crime charges stemming from the alleged hazing. The students face various charges, from aggravated sexual assault to conspiracy and criminal restraint – charged after four victims were allegedly held against their will in four separate incidents, while the defendants improperly touched them in a sexual manner. It hasn't been determined whether the students, whom authorities have not named publicly, will be tried as adults or juveniles.
If the players are found guilty, they would have to go on the sex offender list for 15 years. If they are tried as juveniles, they could face less than a year in jail. But if they are tried as adults, the students facing the most serious charges could spend more than 30 years behind bars.
Hundreds of school supporters attended an anti-bullying rally Sunday, seeking to promote unity and healing within the community.
“We have to start healing, we have to show these four boys that, you know, we’re here behind them,” said Isabelle Martins, a parent of a former Sayreville football player.
Participants at the rally were given balloons, ribbons, stickers and candles, asked to walk around a lake and release the balloons or show other kind 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."
Matthew Stanmyre, a sports enterprise reporter with NJ.com who has been covering the investigation, said some community members still disagree with the decision to cancel the season.
“There’s still some anger about the season being canceled,” Stanmyre said. “Some people say that because only seven people have been charged, why punish the whole team?”
While superintendent Labbe says he does not believe the coaching staff was aware of the incidents, the team’s head coach, George Najjar, has said that his future coaching at the school is unknown.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.