Eight Cheektowaga Central High School football players have been suspended from Friday's homecoming game after they attended a party where alcohol was served.
The players, four of whom are seniors, were suspended after school authorities determined several had been drinking.
"Because of our emphasis on responsibility and character, we wanted the kids who were guilty to come forward," Superintendent Leslie B. Lewis said. "That never happened."
Students, however, deny football players were drinking.
"Nobody wants to step forward because nobody was drinking," said Eddie Shanahan, a senior and captain of the Warriors football team.
The party was held two Saturdays ago in a Wyoming County cabin, parents and students said. The owners of the property, who are the parents of a team member, were present, according to parents.
Students said only the older brother of the student host and friends of the brother, who were over 21, were drinking beer. Shanahan said the football players were watching the Mike Tyson fight on television or riding all-terrain vehicles outside.
A fight ensued at the party when an uninvited guest uttered a racial slur against a member of the football team, students and parents said. Lewis said the district found out about the drinking as a result of the fight, and four people, including a non-student, told school officials that team members were drinking.
There has been some discussion among the remaining players about not playing Friday's game against Maryvale if the eight players are not allowed to play. Because Cheektowaga had just 22 varsity players before the suspensions, it appears that some junior varsity players would need to be called up to fill out the squad, but school officials said they have not planned for that yet.
"As far as we're concerned, this thing is open," Lewis said. "The responsible parties owe it to the team to come forward."
Dave Olszewski, whose son, Craig, is a senior on the team, questions how the district can know with certainty which players, if any, were drinking.
"It's all on hearsay," he said. "If they were (drinking), then they were wrong."
He said he told his son that if he was drinking, he should face the consequences.
"Our issue is that athletes agree to a certain standard of behavior," Lewis said.
He said athletes sign an agreement not to drink alcohol or take illegal drugs. Parents, who argue that the team should not be punished for the misdeeds of a few, said there is no requirement to leave a party where alcohol is being served.
Shanahan, the team captain, said players held a team meeting last Friday at which he urged anyone who was drinking to tell school officials.
"I said: 'If any guys were drinking, go up there and tell them. If you weren't drinking, don't go up there and take the fall for the team. . . . Let's be honest,' " Shanahan said.
He added: "The game actually means a lot to us because it's Senior Night."
Friday's game is the last of the season for the Warriors, who have a 4-2 record and cannot make the playoffs.
The suspensions come 11 years after four Cheektowaga High School students were killed in an alcohol-related car accident in February 1990. "I don't want to go through that again," Lewis said.
In 1998, Frontier Central High School suspended 24 athletes who attended a party where alcohol was served. The district said the students weren't forthcoming in telling what really happened at the party, where a player broke his leg.
Lewis said the district has not heard of any other athletes who were at the party, but if it does, they will be dealt with in a similar manner.
"If you're going to make a decision, there are consequences. They've made a decision as a team, I guess, that they would go down together," he said. "We're not happy with the way this is turning out. We're happy to have the guilty people come forward."