Maine West hazing trial on hold as judge considers coach’s arguments
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter December 19, 2013 11:37AM
Updated: January 21, 2014 11:13AM
Boys are gross.
That’s how one attorney for former Maine West High School varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo summed up the case against his client Thursday.
Then, before even putting on a defense, lawyer Todd Pugh asked Cook County Judge Jeffrey L. Warnick to find Divincenzo not guilty of sanctioning a hazing culture among his players in the Northwest suburbs.
“These were definitely boys,” said Pugh, who appealed to Warnick’s personal knowledge that boys sometimes do “gross, disgusting” things.
And in an unusual move, the judge chose to put Divincenzo’s trial on hold until Jan. 8 to consider the request made after prosecutors rested their case.
Warnick’s decision could rest upon whether Divincenzo was required under Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act to report the alleged hazing to the state’s Department of Children and Family Services.
If he rules against Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, the coach would still have an opportunity to put on a defense. He is charged with misdemeanor battery, hazing and failure to report abuse.
Several current and former Maine West soccer players have now testified about the apparent cycle of hazing on the varsity team. But Divincenzo’s lawyers say he knew nothing about it.
Generally, the “initiations” involved tackling a player, giving him a wedgie and sodomizing him with fingers or sticks.
One player said he was only poked in the “butt cheek,” though, and another testified Thursday his teammates simply punched him repeatedly.
Many characterized it as simple horseplay, but one boy said he limped afterward and another said he later felt pain while bending over.
Assistant State’s Attorney Margaret Ogarek said Divincenzo was responsible for the boys’ behavior because he created an environment that allowed the alleged hazing to go on for years.
She also said it’s “quite frankly, unbelievable” that Divincenzo didn’t know what was happening in his soccer program. One boy said Divincenzo said, “Welcome to the team,” after one less violent incident.
Others said he ordered the varsity team to apologize and do 100 push-ups after a more serious Sept. 26, 2012, incident that prompted a criminal investigation into the hazing. Maine West administrators said they learned what happened two days later, from the family of a freshman player.
No one at the school told DCFS until Oct. 2, 2012, lawyers said Thursday.
Finally, Ogarek underscored the testimony of former freshman players who said Divincenzo earlier told them he’d have the varsity team “take their thumbs and stick it up our butt” if they performed poorly in a drill.
She said it was “so damning” to Divincenzo in light of the later Sept. 26 incident.
“Exactly what he told those kids he would do happened two weeks later,” Ogarek said.
But Thomas Breen, another member of Divincenzo’s legal team, mocked the charges against his client. He called several “absurd” and one “an out-and-out lie.” He asked the judge facetiously if Divincenzo should call child welfare officials every time someone gets gum in their hair.
“‘Oh, we’d better look into this,’ the DCFS person would say,” Breen said as he imitated a call to DCFS over a wedgie.
He said Divincenzo was “kept in the dark regarding any of the details” of the hazing.
“This is just varsity players picking on younger kids,” Breen said. “That’s what it is. It should be no harm, no foul.”