Former Maine West soccer coach charged in alleged hazing of players
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters May 15, 2013 10:34AM
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Updated: June 18, 2013 7:21AM
Former soccer coach Michael Divincenzo was “the adult in the room” who should have stopped the alleged hazing at Maine West High School, Cook County’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.
Instead, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Divincenzo encouraged abuse at the school in northwest suburban Des Plaines. Now the disgraced former coach and teacher has been criminally charged.
Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, faces three counts of misdemeanor battery, one count of hazing and four counts of failure to report abuse, after an exhaustive review by the state’s attorney’s office.
The coach, who declined to comment Wednesday when reached by the Chicago Sun-Times, denied guilt “of any kind” in a public statement last month.
“Once a trial is had, and all the facts come out, it’s going to be pretty clear that Mr. Divincenzo did not participate or even have knowledge in any of these events that were complained of,” said Tom Breen, Divincenzo’s criminal attorney.
The case against Divincenzo might be unique.
“We haven’t been able to find any other cases anywhere in the United States with this specific fact pattern,” said Daniel Kirk, Alvarez’s chief of staff, “and believe this may be a case that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the United States.”
Prosecutors also said they would drop misdemeanor charges filed last fall against six teenagers — the alleged perpetrators of the hazing assaults — because Alvarez said it was clear their victims didn’t want to press charges against their peers.
The announcement appears to end a five-month investigation during which Alvarez said her staff scoured thousands of pages of documents and conducted more than 100 interviews. However, she said new evidence could always prompt further review of the case.
Though the review was conducted by the sex crimes division, Alvarez said her staff found no evidence that the abuse was motivated by sexual gratification. Instead, she called it a “purposeful attempt to bully, haze and humiliate” the victims.
Divincenzo was fired in December by the Maine Township High School District 207 school board, which released a statement Wednesday saying it had cooperated fully with agencies investigating the hazing and has taken steps to prevent further hazing.
The former coach turned himself in to Des Plaines police Wednesday morning and was out on bond.
The allegations against Divincenzo revolve around similar reported incidents in June, August and September. Often, prosecutors said unnamed students pushed others to the ground, held them down and, in some cases, sodomized their victims through their underwear. Alvarez called that “one of the more disturbing examples of conduct.”
Prosecutors said the victims were attacked by students under Divincenzo’s supervision, and that he knew about the initiations and failed to report them.
“He himself threatened players that he would order varsity players to perpetrate acts of violence and hazing upon these young men,” Alvarez said.
Lawyer Tony Romanucci filed a lawsuit last fall over the hazing claims. One of his anonymous clients said Wednesday he was “grateful” for the charges. The mother of a second unnamed victim hazed by his teammates called the charges against Divincenzo “a good beginning.”
“He is at the root of their behavior,” she said.