New Jersey town cancels high school football amid harassment allegations. Brave move or mistake?

Students arrive to the Board of Education meeting the day after the football season was canceled, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Sayreville, N.J. Sayreville a town that found encouragement in its winning high school football team after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy was left to absorb another blow Tuesday after school officials canceled the season over allegations of bullying, intimidation and harassment among players. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger,William Perlman) TV OUT; MAGS OUT; INTERNET OUT; NO SALES; NO ARCHIVING
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Students arrive to the Board of Education meeting the day after the football season was canceled, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014 in Sayreville, N.J. Sayreville a town that found encouragement in its winning high school football team after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy was left to absorb another blow Tuesday after school officials canceled the season over allegations of bullying, intimidation and harassment among players. (AP Photo/The Star-Ledger,William Perlman) TV OUT; MAGS OUT; INTERNET OUT; NO SALES; NO ARCHIVING

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

Earlier in the week, we discussed the growing concern over high school football, the football culture and the risks to players.

A Get Schooled reader alerted me to this big story out of New Jersey where, in a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Sayreville Board of Education supported the cancellation of the rest of the high school football season – freshman, JV and varsity -- because of alleged hazing and bullying. The town has been a football powerhouse in the state.

The board vote occurred in the midst of homecoming week and during a crowded meeting where both parents and players protested and downplayed the allegations, which include abuse of a sexual nature.

The allegations are serious enough to merit investigation by the Sayreville Police Department and Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe told reporters the prosecutor’s office said the harassment, intimidation and bullying "took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted."

In a statement, Labbe said: "We need all of our student-athletes, all of our students, heck, all students in the state, in this nation, to understand that the one true way to stop bullying is for those bystanders to do the right thing and become up-standers and report to an adult or someone at an authority level of what is going on. They have a moral and ethical responsibility to prevent harm. Emotional harm or physical harm from being performed on another one of their peers by being an up-stander. Standing up, doing the right thing, doing the courageous thing and going to an adult or going to a member of any authority."

“I feel for these kids," board member John Walsh told local media after the vote. "But we have a moral, legal and ethical obligation to ensure the safety of every student, and that supersedes any extracurricular activity."

As NBC reported:

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."

The decision to cancel the rest of the reason is sparking outrage in the community, although many observers, including NJ Advance Media columnist Steve Politi, applauded Sayreville superintendent Richard Labbe and the school board for their courage.

Here is a short excerpt from Politi's column on NJ.com:

Unthinkable, isn't it? But there they were, gathered outside of the Sayreville Board of Education building, ripping the man who showed leadership in the face of a crisis in one of his schools.

"The innocent did nothing wrong and they are punished," said Theresa Tamburri, whose daughter is a freshman cheerleader at the school. "(Labbe) is to me, he is wrong on doing this. What are we supposed to do? This is football season, and this is in our blood in this town."

The entire quote is incredible, but the first part makes you want to stand on your desk and scream. You know who was innocent and did nothing wrong? The kids that may have been hazed, that's who. They're the ones who might have to live with the emotional scars for the rest of their lives, and forgive me if that seems a bit more important than the game against Piscataway.

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