After Maine West initiation, coach welcomed player to team, teen says at hazing trial
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter December 18, 2013 9:30AM
Former Maine West High School soccer coach Michael Divincenzo arrives at Cook County Circuit Court in Skokie on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. Divincenzo, whose criminal trial begins today, faces misdemeanor charges for his complacency in the brutal sexual and physical assaults of at least five student athletes as part of hazing rituals at the Des Plaines public high school. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 20, 2014 8:10AM
The boy earned his place on Maine West High School’s varsity soccer team when he was barely a freshman.
So in July 2012, he testified Wednesday, came his “initiation.” Fellow players grabbed his legs one day that summer and “poked” his “butt cheeks.”
When it was over, he said head varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo came over and said, “Welcome to the team.”
The boy said he took no offense and wasn’t harmed. He said he laughed and joked with Divincenzo afterward.
But that’s as close as prosecutors, who are expected to rest their case Thursday morning, have placed Divincenzo to an apparent cycle of hazing at Maine West High School during the first two days of his trial.
Prosecutors say Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, failed to put a stop to the hazing among his players. Several boys have now described the behavior in the Skokie courtroom of Cook County Judge Jeffrey L. Warnick.
The former coach is charged with misdemeanor battery, hazing and failure to report abuse. His lawyers argue he was a good coach and mentor who nonetheless had no idea what his players were doing to each other.
They will likely ask the judge to find Divincenzo not guilty as soon as prosecutors finish their case. While such a request is not unusual, defense attorney Todd Pugh promised arguments “will not be routine.”
The judge must weigh that request against testimony from the likes of one former Maine West varsity player, now 19, who said Wednesday the team coached by Divincenzo was like a family.
He said he was “initiated” into that family as a freshman, years before he initiated a freshman player himself in September 2012.
“I thought it was a normal thing,” said the former student. “And I felt closer to the family.”
Generally, “initiations” involved tackling a player, giving him a wedgie and sodomizing him with fingers or sticks, according to trial testimony.
The former player said the varsity team would talk openly about the initiations during stretches. He said they didn’t conceal those conversations from Divincenzo.
But several boys have said Divincenzo seemed angry — even “furious” — when he first learned of the September 2012 initiations of two boys that led to a police investigation of hazing at the school.
They said he made varsity players run over to the freshman practice field, apologize and do 100 push-ups.
Maine West administrators, including former Athletic Director Christopher Addante and Dean of Students James Dvorak, testified Wednesday they didn’t learn about the incident until two days later, after it was reported by the family of a freshman soccer player — not by Divincenzo.
Nora Harms-Pavelski, an administrator with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said the child welfare agency didn’t receive a report from Divincenzo about the alleged hazing, either.
Dvorak said the school called DCFS on Oct. 1.