Sayreville trying to move on from locker room scandal
It's been a rough few months for the community of Sayreville and its storied high school football program. Parents and community members alike would love to hit the reset button and erase the black eye caused by last season's disturbing sexual hazing allegations.
Since the news broke in October, the majority of the season was canceled, seven players were charged and, recently, the district let go of the program's head coach and started the search for a new team leader.
Lifelong Sayreville resident Jane Pietraszka said the chaos has fortunately died down since the start of the new year.
"We don't discuss it anymore," she said. "Nobody's talking about it anymore."
Dennis Bello, owner of the nearby Bello's Family Restaurant, agreed "the panic" has disappeared, and more people are looking ahead, instead of wondering what may or may not have happened inside the football locker room.
"The kids had a great program going," he said. "We're very confident that this is a good town and we're going to be fine. We'll move on."
Bello said the situation was more of a hit to morale than business, but he expects a bounce back in both respects when home games return to town this fall.
Sayreville resident Nancy Romanowski, whose niece is a freshman at Sayreville War Memorial High School, said the one bright light for the community has been the reinstatement of the sport for the 2015 season.
"That was the best step to make," she said. "Allowing them to be able to play again next season - I think it gives them something to look forward to."
The team's 2014 season was cut short after just three games.
The search for a new head coach launched earlier this month when George Najjar's position was posted on the district website. Najjar had given the school 20 seasons and a handful of state titles.
The superintendent of schools hinted at a "comprehensive" search for a new leader.
Sayreville's athletic director would not respond to a request for comment on the hiring process, but Ted D'Alessio, head of the Directors of Athletics Association of New Jersey, said a typical search committee usually consists of several faculty members, as well as present and past student-athletes.
"I would assume and even recommend that the school district cast a very wide net - even beyond the borders of the state - in their search," D'Alessio said.
Despite the mess that halted last season, fierce competition is predicted for the job, given the program's history of success.
Andy Sliwoski, former assistant coach at Manalapan High School, insisted the Sayreville head coach is a highly sought-after position, but applicants should be aware there's plenty of baggage that comes with it.
"I think you're definitely going to need the right guy in there to take the job because they're going to be looked at with scrutiny from this point forward," Sliwoski said.
Najjar remains suspended from his other position at the school as physical education teacher. No coaches have been charged in connection with the four alleged hazing incidents that occurred over a span of 10 days in September.