Maine West victim: “I felt ashamed.”
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 1, 2012 9:24AM
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Updated: May 15, 2013 9:20PM
When they attacked, there was nothing to say.
He was a high school freshman — a younger kid — who was “amped” to learn he’d been promoted to the varsity soccer team at Maine West High School. That’s what happens to kids who spend their entire youth playing the sport.
On this team, he felt no connection to the coaches or the players as he had before. On this team, he said he had to tie his soccer shorts “really tight.”
That boy — now a young man — said he was assaulted twice by older soccer players in the summer of 2007.
He said they tackled him, pulled his pants down, and shredded his underwear. He also said they sodomized him with their fingers. And while it was happening, he said nothing.
“I kept quiet,” he said. “What was there to be said?”
He quit the team. But he didn’t report the assault until he learned this year of similar allegations of assault under the guise of a hazing ritual at the northwest suburban high school.
“I was embarrassed,” he said, explaining why he didn’t come forward earlier. “I didn’t want anybody to know. I felt ashamed. Strongly ashamed.”
But now he’s known as John Doe C, the third of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Chicago lawyer Tony Romanucci against Maine Township High School District 207.
Officials at the school district said they don’t tolerate hazing and are investigating. So is the Des Plaines Police Department and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Doe C wouldn’t reveal his name, age or where he lives, but he spoke exclusively to the Sun-Times in a teleconference call with Romanucci’s law firm. He also described the allegations of assault contained in the lawsuit, which makes larger claims of a hazing culture sanctioned at the school by coaches like Michael Divincenzo, who has become a common link between the allegations.
Divincenzo has repeatedly declined Sun-Times’ requests for comment.
Doe C said he doesn’t know if Divincenzo saw his assault, but he said the coach was on campus when it happened. He said the coach, known to the players as “Divo,” would tell them to “take a happy.” It was the coach’s way of telling his players to run across the whole campus.
But Doe C said he thinks it was code for something else.
“Every happy run, there was always, like, stuff going on,” he said.
He said he saw coaches wink at players. And on those runs, he said, something would happen.
It happened to him, he said, in July and August of 2007.
Doe C is the third person, but the first victim, to speak anonymously about what allegedly has happened at Maine West. The mothers of two other plaintiffs have appeared in front of cameras at Romanucci’s office wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses to hide their identities.
Two 2012 soccer players, who were 14 at the time of their alleged assaults, claim in the lawsuit to be victims of a similar attack to Doe C’s. Their lawyer said older players tore off their underwear, held them down, grabbed their testicles and sodomized them with fingers and sticks on Sept. 27.
A 2008 freshman baseball player who says his pants were pulled down in the school’s locker room is Romanucci’s fourth plaintiff. His mother also said Divincenzo did nothing when he witnessed the boy’s teammates taunting him.
The school district acknowledged that incident last week before it became part of Romanucci’s complaint. It said in a statement that the high school had been made aware of it, and students were interviewed and disciplined at the school level when the boy’s mother reported the conduct in August 2008.
However, it said the incident came to the attention of Supt. Ken Wallace only on Nov. 16.
As for the Sept. 27 incident, Des Plaines police have charged six juveniles with misdemeanor battery and hazing, officials said.
Des Plaines police have said they sought felony charges over the incident, but a spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has said the evidence wasn’t there. She said the office will review the case as new evidence comes forward.
Ten students, meanwhile, also have been disciplined.
Doe C said it was a “mental setback” to learn what happened to him happened to other players. He said it’s wrong, and it needs to be stopped so the school can be a safe place again.
Though he said he stayed at Maine West after his assault, he said the attack ruined his high school experience.
Not only that, it meant the end of his athletic career. There was no more soccer. He quit other sports, too. His motivation, he said, was gone.
“This truly brought me down,” he said. “Brought me down to the edge. And finished me off.”