SAYREVILLE, N.J. — After seven Sayreville High School football players were charged in connection with the alleged hazing and sexual assaults of four teammates, an organizer of a candlelight vigil for the victims hopes the event can unite a divided community.
“What I am hoping for is that everyone comes together,” Maureen Jenkins, a resident of the borough’s Parlin section, said of the vigil, which will be held across the street from the high school on Sunday at 6 p.m.
“There is so much collateral damage, and that’s for every kid in that school who has to live with this black cloud over their head. As a community, we need to come together to help support the victims. We are all victims here.”
The arrests late Friday night of six players, all aged 15 to 17, came just five days after Schools Superintendent Rich Labbe announced he was shutting down the entire football program in response to what he described at the time as pervasive and widespread bullying. The seventh player turned himself in to authorities early Saturday morning, according to a statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
The arrested players will next appear before a Family Court judge. That hearing is not open to the public and the names of the players have not been released because they are juveniles.
Labbe’s decision brought national attention to the high school and polarized the working-class community as many players and their parents vehemently protested his move during a school board meeting earlier this week.
Former Sayreville football coach Sal Mistretta, who laid the groundwork that enabled the program to become one of the state’s most successful, said now that charges have been filed, any ambiguity regarding the allegations should be eliminated.
“I think this dismisses any kind of doubt whether this was normal locker room behavior as some people have been saying,” Mistretta said.
“I think this cements the severity of the crime and the fact that this is something some people have been minimizing. Hopefully they now realize that the program had to be shut down or that drastic measures had to be taken, and the superintendent did the right thing.”
F. Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Notre Dame who presents workshops on hazing nationally through his Play Like A Champion program, said he believes the victims could be psychologically scarred from the alleged abuse.
“People who have been abused often blame themselves or feel inadequate, so there are all kinds of outcomes with this sort of thing,” Power said. “You are talking about what is this child’s upbringing, where is the child in terms of his sexual identity, is this child at a point where he can get help to process this? This is a pretty serious thing.”
Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien announced Saturday the formation of a new leadership organization, the Sayreville Coalition of Community Leadership, which includes two former mayors and several local clergy members.
“Over the past few days, Sayreville has been hurt, has been embarrassed and has many, many questions about what has happened,” a statement from the organization said. “Our group is focused on healing. To that end, we stand together as a resource for the people of Sayreville. We offer counseling, we offer resources and will actively work together to help in any way we can.”
Former Mayors James Zagata and John McCormack join O’Brien in the coalition, as well as Rev. Clarence Bulluck of Faith Fellowship Ministries, Rev. Joseph Balina of Faith Fellowship Ministries, Rev. Thomas Ryan of Our Lady of Victories and Rev. Kenneth Murphy of St. Stanislaus Kostka.
“We love Sayreville,” the statement said. “It is a wonderful community of people who are dedicated to one another. This is a time to come together and to pray, as we rebuild and focus on the future.”
For more on this story, click here.