NEWARK - (AP) - Nine high school football players suspendedfor their alleged involvement in a house party brawl last monthhave sued to try and get back on the field for a state championshipgame this weekend.
In separate filings in state Superior Court and with the stateDepartment of Education, the players from Wayne Hills High Schoolclaim they were denied due process by the district's school boardwhen it barred them from playing in a state sectional championshipgame Saturday at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. The filings seek to have the suspensions halted until thecriminal charges are resolved, and claim the school districtdoesn't have a disciplinary policy covering off-campus,non-school-related activities. The legal challenge marked the latest volley in a controversythat has raged for the last three weeks in the town 20 milesnorthwest of New York City. Wayne Hills is a perennial footballpower in northern New Jersey under longtime coach Chris Olsen,whose son, Greg, played at the school and now plays tight end forthe NFL's Carolina Panthers. During that time, the players were suspended by InterimSuperintendent Michael Roth. The school board subsequently stoppedthe suspension, but then reinstated it on Friday. "They have done nothing but divide this community with theirflip-flop decisions," Darren Del Sardo, an attorney representingone of the players, said of the school board. "If you're not goingto offer someone due process, you don't take action and you let itplay out in the juvenile justice system." Roth didn't respond to an e-mail request for comment Tuesday,and an attorney for the school board didn't return a phone message.
The alleged brawl occurred on Oct. 29 and involved students fromneighboring Wayne Valley High School. Assault charges were filed 10days later, and the school board was notified a day after that. George Abdy, an attorney for one of the players, said the boardrelied on hearsay evidence and media accounts of the brawl that hesaid were "totally exaggerated and embellished." Abdy said aWayne Valley student started the initial altercation by punchingone of the Wayne Hills players, and he disputed the account thatnine Wayne Hills players were involved in the subsequent allegedassault. In a statement released Friday and published on the schooldistrict's website, the board said applicable laws allow thesuspension of students for alleged off-campus conduct "when thereis a substantial and material impact on the operation of theschool." Though principals for both schools initially said there was noimpact on school operations, they changed their mind and concludedthat "this issue is disrupting the daily operations in thebuildings," the board wrote. The lawsuit also claims the players' college scholarship chanceswill be hurt if they are not allowed to play, and thatconfidentiality laws will be violated since eight of the playersare minors and would be easily identifiable if they were absentfrom the field on Saturday.Board of Education overturns ban for 9 Wayne Hills football playersWayne schools to ban 9 athletes from playoff gameWayne Hills football players accused of assault allowed at game