By Briana Vannozzi
With seven students now charged and suspended from school, all eyes are on the investigation and the old question — who knew what and when did they know it?
“I wasn’t in the know enough because I wasn’t on a sports team, but you certainly could tell that there’s, you know, to be on a team, there’s things that you’re expected to do in order to be on a team,” said 2006 alum Angelo Palma.
Parents and students of Sayreville War Memorial High School have been reluctant to speak to the media and have in fact become disgruntled by the mounting presence of camera crews. The charges for a series of sexual assaults committed by football teammates in the locker room have rocked this championship town in Middlesex County.
“Football is huge in Sayreville. I mean that is one of things we really have going for us, we really love,” Palma said.
But as of now, the program is canceled, its future uncertain. Superintendent Richard Labbe says he’s waiting for more details on the investigation being conducted by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. The students arrested range between 15 and 17 years old. The charges include aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact and hazing.
“It is going to be this atmosphere that comes along with something like that. It really creates this atmosphere of uncertainty, of tension, of unease, of what is really going on? Are people really being honest with us? Are people doing the job that they are in place to do,” said Palma.
Reaction to the cancellation is mixed.
“I think canceling the season was the right choice to make. Safety’s gotta come before a game. And the safety of these players and the investigation has to take place before they go forward with something like this,” said Palma.
“It’s fair that the seven players are gone, but it’s unfair to the players who weren’t involved,” said Sayreville War Memorial High School freshman Eric Parsler.
Palma, a 2006 Sayreville alum, says rumors of these acts have been going around for years.
“And so these seniors, it wouldn’t even be fair to say that they started this off or that they’re the first ones to do it. They might have had seniors do it to them and they grow up thinking this is how it works,” he said.
He believes starting from the ground up, with new coaches down the road, might help the healing process and clear the school’s name.
“Just a lot of shame, just a feeling of man, this our town? It just puts a real damper on your view of your town and your leaders and your teachers your school,” Palma said.
According to reports, Superintendent Labbe was instructed not to speak with the head coach or other staff since the prosecutor’s office began its investigation. But he hopes to gain clearance this week. The direction of the case is pending a family court decision. If the students tried with aggravated assault are convicted, they’ll face up to five years in juvenile detention. If they’re prosecuted as adults, they’ll face up to 20 years in prison.