After bullying allegations, Sayreville HS football season remains canceled as board upholds decision

Sayreville HS football players sit in a meeting announcing the board of education's decision to uphold cancelling the team's season in light of charges of bullying and intimidation.Wayne Coffey/New York Daily News Sayreville HS football players sit in a meeting announcing the board of education’s decision to uphold cancelling the team’s season in light of charges of bullying and intimidation.

Amid anger, tears and defiant shouts of protest at a raucous school board meeting Tuesday night, the Sayreville (N.J.) Board of Education voted unanimously to uphold the superintendent’s decision to cancel the school’s football season in the wake of allegations of widespread bullying and hazing in the storied program.

The meeting, held in the school cafeteria and guarded by multiple Sayreville police offers, was attended by scores of players and several hundreds of supporters, most of whom stood and cheered each time a community member stepped to the microphone to talk about all the good that football has brought to the community, virtually all of them enraged about the district’s shutdown of the varsity, JV and freshman seasons.

The board’s decision came
one night after superintendent Richard Labbe ended football for the year, citing an investigation by the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office that he said substantiated that players “knew, tolerated and generally accepted incidents of harassment, of intimidation and bullying.”

Echoing an almost universally held opinion, Jim McIntosh, father of a senior team member, Sean McIntosh, said, “There was a way they could’ve done it that would’ve made Sayreville a model, not a mockery, and you can quote me.”

“This is America!” shouted another irate parent. “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?”

Almost the instant board members announced, one by one, their support of Labbe’s actions, dozens of players, almost all of them wearing their blue jerseys or blue varsity jackets with gray sleeves, stormed out of the cafeteria and headed straight to the football field, jumping over the fence. Somebody turned on the lights, and the players piled onto a place where the Sayreville Bombers have won three state championships in the last four years.

Brandon Hoyte, a former Sayreville star who went on to captain Notre Dame and play briefly in the NFL, flew in from Chicago just to voice his support of embattled coach George Najjar and the difference that he has made in his life.

“My standpoint is just because something may have happened doesn’t incriminate everyone,” Hoyte said. “What we do going forward and how we get stronger from this is what’s important.”

One of the players, receiver Justin Gallagher, spoke emotionally of all the work he has put in, and not being able to complete a season he has put so much effort into, and being denied the chance to have his senior walk-out with his mother.

Members of the board and superintendent Richard Labbe (c.) listen to comments during the first Sayreville Board of Education meeting following the cancellation of the school's football season. Alex Remnick / NJ Advance Media Members of the board and superintendent Richard Labbe (c.) listen to comments during the first Sayreville Board of Education meeting following the cancellation of the school’s football season.

“I don’t see how that’s fair,” he said.

Said Madeline Thillet, son of senior and captain Dylan Thillet, said her son is so distraught he can barely get out of bed. At her turn at the microphone — each speaker limited to two minutes — Thillet said her son “has been a better man, a better person,” because of his involvement in Sayreville football.

“Nobody was hurt. Nobody died. I don’t think the punishment fits the crime,” Thillet said.

Several players spoke about how they’re now being bullied and harassed through social media.

The crowd hollered at the board to present evidence and to address the question of an entire program paying for the alleged misdeeds of a few, but board members said they could not discuss details because of the ongoing investigation.

An SI.com report quoted a source saying that the prosecutor’s office was looking into allegations that certain players were digitally penetrated by older team members. A previous report said that freshmen players were so scared of what was happening that they bolted out of the locker room after practice, hoping to get away before the harassment commenced.

As if the cancellation of the season and the stench of scandal were not enough, the Sayreville program is also dealing with the arrest last week of former assistant coach Charles Garcia, 38, of South Plainfield, who police say was found with 800 milligrams of steroids and 14 syringes when he was pulled over on a traffic stop.

Board member Michael Macagnone, who offered the most impassioned case in support of the board’s controversial vote, said as much as he believed in the value of team sports and the sentiments expressed, he needed to protect the victims and make sure the school was safe for all.

“What kind of hell is going on in that locker room?” he said. “I have to ensure that doesn’t happen.”


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