SAYREVILLE, N.J. -- The crunching sound of football cleats on hallway floors became the drone of dread for freshmen at a New Jersey high school. As they marched into the locker room, an ugly hazing ritual allegedly awaited them.
Upperclassmen howled as they flipped off the lights then sexually abused their younger classmates at Sayreville High School, parents and players say.
Authorities are investigating, and the school's superintendent has canceled the successful team's football season.
The coach and officials won't comment on details of the abuse, but it may have gone on for a year. A Sports Illustrated article indicated that it likely did not involve intercourse.
"There were incidents of harassment, intimidation that took place on a pervasive level, in which the players knew, tolerated and in general accepted," says Superintendent Richard Labbe.
The Sayreville Bombers took the state championship three out of the last four years. Now parents used to watching their sons' spirited team reign victorious on the gridiron are upset the season has been canceled.
"I've never seen so much dedication out of my son, and I want him to play the rest of this season," a mother said at a school meeting to the roar of applause. Despondent players vented frustration over not being able to finish what they've started.
They are at odds with parents and players who broke the allegations. That group is less vocal and declined to be interviewed on camera, afraid to voice grievances out loud.
But the nature of the discussion will change soon, as it moves into a courtroom, says former Middlesex County prosecutor Thomas Buck.
"The allegations that are being floated out there now; if that is the underlying investigation, I would expect not too long in the future you're going to start seeing arrests," he said. "It is only going to get uglier."
The school's football field lies dormant, framed by empty bleachers under floodlights switched off for the duration. No touchdown cheers; no cries of defense, defense. No homecoming.
The gloomy disappointment haunting school hallways has flowed out into the working class neighborhood, turning into the fear of jail time.
And parents on both sides have hired lawyers.