Former Maine West coach ‘lost’ since firing after alleged hazing
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org June 3, 2013 11:14AM
Updated: July 5, 2013 6:06AM
The former Maine West High School soccer coach facing criminal charges over alleged hazing by his players feels “lost” but did nothing wrong, his attorney said.
Michael Divincenzo and his lawyers appeared at the Cook County courthouse in Skokie on Monday for the first time since prosecutors charged the former coach with three misdemeanor counts of battery, one count of hazing and four counts of failure to report abuse.
His defense lawyers began making arrangements during the hearing to put their hands on close to 10,000 pages of paperwork and video prosecutors say support the charges. The judge also set a new court date of Aug. 7.
Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, let his legal team do the talking — barely speaking a word around reporters and lingering in the hallway outside the courtroom even after the judge took the bench.
Then, after his lawyers arrived, he sat calmly near the front of the courtroom, adjusting his tie every now and then and occasionally conferring with defense attorney Tom Breen.
“We truly believe that once the hysteria and the hype are removed from this case, that everyone is going to realize that Mike is a very good person, a very good coach and did nothing wrong,” Breen said after the hearing.
Breen later questioned whether the alleged hazing that sparked a lawsuit and led to Divincenzo’s firing from Maine Township High School District 207 last December even occurred.
“I don’t know if it happened,” Breen said. “It didn’t happen in his presence. And he certainly didn’t condone it. There was horseplay as there is in any high school sport — certainly have been for generations — but as far as hazing is concerned, I don’t think there was hazing. Or at least it wasn’t brought to his attention.”
Divincenzo has felt “lost,” Breen said, since losing a job that “he really loved.”
A lawyer for four unnamed victims who sued Divincenzo and the school district also appeared at the courthouse. She said her clients, who allege hazing going back to 2007 on soccer and baseball teams coached by Divincenzo, feel justified and vindicated that “someone is standing up for them.”
“These are minors and children involved,” Rebekah Williams said, “and they look up to adults to know and to believe what the right thing is. And in this case he didn’t do the right thing.”
The charges against Divincenzo — which prosecutors say are unique — revolve around similar reported incidents in June, August and September of 2012.
Often, prosecutors said unnamed students at the school in Des Plaines would push others to the ground, hold them down and, in some cases, sodomize their victims through their underwear.
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,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez last month.
Divincenzo told police last fall he didn’t know about the hazing, and he released a statement earlier this year denying guilt “of any kind.”