School Board Upholds Decision to Cancel New Jersey Football Team's Season

Students, parents demand answers amid hazing investigation at Sayreville.

ByABC News
October 8, 2014, 3:45 AM

— -- Parents and students swarmed a school board meeting at Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey Tuesday, demanding answers after the decision to cancel the school's football season amid a hazing investigation.

This week's game and five others will be forfeited as the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office investigates claims of hazing, bullying and intimidation. Sayreville also forfeited last week’s game.

The school board voted Tuesday in unanimous support of superintendent Dr. Richard Labbe’s decision to cancel the season.

The investigation began after someone called police about the alleged abuse, a local official told ABC News.

"It was a parent of a younger kid being taunted, threatened, bullied," the official added.

Younger players on the team were routinely taunted, bullied and intimidated by the older players, often with “sexual overtones,” the official said.

"They would live in fear of seniors and juniors," the official said. "They would race to the locker room to get changed and get out before the older kids got there."

Parents believe it’s not fair that all the players – on the school’s varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams – are being affected.

“I don’t understand why they’re being punished,” mother Madeline Valet said at Tuesday’s meeting. “The forfeited game was punishment enough.”

Senior Derek Rodriguez is disappointed that his high school football career came to such a sudden, surprising end.

“Now we’re not going to have that closure of going out and finishing our senior year,” Rodriguez said. “It got taken from us, from something we didn’t even know was going on.”

Despite the public outcry, the board backed Labbe’s decision to cancel the season.

“I can tell you, the school board members worked really hard,” school board attorney Jonathan Busch said. “This is a very difficult decision for them. They live in this community. They shop in the supermarkets with the members of the public. They are members of the public.”

Labbe said he has received support in his decision from across the state, and even people from Kentucky and Kansas.

“When I first heard of what was going on, my initial emotion was horror,” Labbe said.

“While it was a difficult decision, I understand how the seniors feel not to have that last game, not to walk out on the field for the last time with their mom and dad. But based up on the information I received, the right decision that I knew in my heart was to make the one we made.”

Detectives are interviewing parents, players and school employees, an official briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

Sayreville police referred ABC News to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating the case. The prosecutor's office declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Sayreville is one of New Jersey's most successful football programs, winning three state sectional championships in the past four years. The team opened this season 2-1, before forfeiting last Thursday's game as the hazing allegations emerged.

Separately, Charlie Garcia, an assistant coach for the team, was arrested last week on steroid possession charges. He later resigned.

Garcia's first court appearance is scheduled for Friday, according to the Office of the Somerset County Prosecutor. Garcia's lawyer, Philip Nettl, did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.