WAYNE, N.J. (AP) — Nine members of a northern New Jersey high school football team will be sidelined when their teammates play for a state sectional title next month.
The Wayne Board of Education agreed Friday to uphold a ruling by the district superintendent to suspend the Wayne Hills players, who face aggravated assault charges stemming from a brawl at a private party on Oct. 29.
The nine are accused in the beating of two students from another high school in the Passaic County district. Authorities say one victim was beaten unconscious and left in the road, and one was kicked and stomped while on the ground.
School officials have allowed the players to compete in two playoff games that have been held since the brawl, a decision that angered many residents who felt the players were receiving special treatment. But coach Chris Olsen and other community members argued that keeping the players off the field would violate their rights to due process, while lawyers for the players claimed that the facts of the case were being misrepresented by residents and in media reports.
Friday’s ruling, which came shortly after the board held an emergency meeting on the matter, means the players will not be able to compete when top-seeded Wayne Hills plays Old Tappan on Dec. 3 for the North 1, Group 3 title.
Darren DelSardo and George Abdy, lawyers who represent some of the accused players, issued a statement Friday night calling the board’s decision “unfortunate.” They also said board members were seeking to “deflect responsibility” for their decisions.
“This decision impacts the lives of far more than nine students who happen to play football for Wayne Hills High School,” the lawyers said. “The board is caving into pressure from people who dislike Wayne Hills, its coach and the football program. The board is not supposed to take sides in community disputes; it has a responsibility to represent all the children fairly and impartially. The board is caving into a mob mentality that has been spread across the internet.”
Board members declined comment after the meeting. But during the session, board trustee Robert Ceberio read a statement on the board’s behalf that noted “the last three weeks have been a very difficult and emotional time for the Wayne community. The events that allegedly occurred at a private party, which involved several students, has left a black mark on our community.”
Friday’s decision came two weeks after Michael Roth, the district’s interim superintendent, said the players couldn’t be suspended from extracurricular activities because the school had no jurisdiction over an incident that occurred off school grounds. That decision allowed the players to compete in the first round of the playoffs.
Roth reversed his decision on Nov. 16, citing a further review of case law. But following a raucous public meeting the next day, which was attended by Olsen and most of the football team dressed in their jerseys, the school board decided to temporarily stay Roth’s decision. That meant the nine players were allowed to play in the second round of the playoffs.
The board had planned to hold another hearing Tuesday to discuss unspecified “evidence” in the case, but announced Friday afternoon that it had been canceled. Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes had urged the district to cancel that session, saying it could jeopardize the criminal investigation and compromise the rights of the accused players and the two alleged victims.