Six of the seven students, ranging in age from 15 to 17, were arrested Friday night, and the seventh was being sought, police and prosecutors said.
The group attacked four students at Sayreville War Memorial High School, a regional football power, on four separate occasions between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29, authorities said. Their investigation found that the students held other teens against their will and improperly touched them in a sexual manner. One of the victims was kicked during an attack, authorities said.
Three of the students were charged with aggravated sexual assault, criminal restraint, hazing and other crimes for an act of sexual penetration upon one of the children, Middlesex County prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said. The four other students were charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact and other crimes.
Those in custody were awaiting a Family Court decision on whether they would be held at a juvenile detention facility or be released to their families. Their names weren't released because of their ages.
On Friday evening, at what would have been game time as the planned homecoming night neared, the lights at Sayreville War Memorial High football stadium stayed off and the field remained empty.
Four days earlier, Superintendent Richard Labbe announced he was canceling the rest of the season after the prosecutor's office substantiated allegations of hazing involving members of the school's football team.
Parents in the township have complained that the whole team is being punished. The team, the Bombers, has won three sectional titles over four years.
Labbe has stood by his decision and said the time has come for students and others to step forward when bullying occurs. He said Friday the district has launched a harassment, intimidation and bullying investigation of all its athletic teams.
"In the ensuing days, weeks and months," he said in a statement, "we will come together as a school district and greater community to harness the strength required to support the young men who may have been victimized and then to begin the healing process for our beloved community."
Sayreville, the hometown of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who graduated from the high school, sits next to the Raritan River and just inland from the Raritan Bay, site of devastating flooding from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Football was a constant through the storm's aftermath, and news of the season's cancellation hit students hard.
Mark R. Sullivan / Home News Tribune / AP
"The facts as reported currently are extraordinarily disturbing and, as the father of a number of teenage athletes, the idea that that kind of conduct could be permitted, if it's true ... in a high school athletics program, or anywhere else in our state for that matter, is absolutely unacceptable," he said.
Residents describe the Sayreville borough as a hardworking, diverse place geared toward football. They say the Middlesex County borough of about 43,000 people is a great place to raise kids.
"Everything revolves around getting the kids ready to play Bomber football," Cary Melendez, who has been living in Sayreville a few years, said outside her house.
At John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, across the street from the school, Matt Norcross said football is a large part of the town's identity.
"It's hard to get here on Friday nights" because the games generate so much traffic, the South Amboy man said as his 12-year-old stepson participated in football practice on a nearby field.
An anti-bullying rally has been scheduled for Sunday night in Kennedy Park. Holly Emory, whose son plays on the football team, said parents have asked those attending not to wear Bombers gear so they don't "pour salt in the wound."