Prosecutors on Day 1 of hazing trial: ‘It went beyond horseplay’
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter December 17, 2013 1:26PM
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 19, 2014 11:53AM
First he heard them yelling: “Freshman!”
The boy looked. He said he saw members of Maine West High School’s varsity soccer team with sticks in their hands. And they were running toward him.
He said they tackled him from behind, near the football stadium at the school in Des Plaines on Sept. 26, 2012. They grabbed his arms and legs, he said, and shoved his face in the dirt.
And soon, he said he felt a stick between his legs.
The boy, now 15, recalled that day in a Skokie courtroom Tuesday as prosecutors put former Maine West soccer coach Michael Divincenzo on trial for failing to put a stop to the hazing they said was “rampant” on the campus in the Northwest Suburbs.
Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, is charged with misdemeanor battery, hazing and failure to report abuse. He watched quietly and intently in a dark suit as several supporters sat in the gallery behind him.
“It went beyond child’s play,” Assistant State’s Attorney Margaret Ogarek said in her opening statement. “It went beyond horseplay. It wasn’t just kids fooling around.”
Divincenzo’s lawyers said he didn’t know the extent of the abuse. Todd Pugh, a member of Divincenzo’s legal team, also slammed prosecutors for trying to hold Divincenzo accountable for unruly teenagers’ actions.
He said prosecutors have taken an “unprecedented legal position” that is “morally and legally wrong” and has ruined Divincenzo’s life.
“On so many different levels, judge, this case is grotesque,” Pugh said.
Much of the testimony on the first day of the bench trial in front of Cook County Judge Jeffrey L. Warnick focused on the alleged attack in September 2012.
A second boy, now 16, said he was also initiated that day. And he said he reported it to Emilio Rodriguez, the freshman soccer coach at the time.
According to police reports, Rodriguez told Divincenzo in text messages that day that varsity players “Pulled his pants down. Not the boxers. They are making a big deal about it.”
But both boys testified Tuesday they felt the alleged assailants sodomized them through their clothing. One boy said he later felt pain while bending over after he returned home.
A former varsity player who was alleged to have attacked one boy that day — and who once faced misdemeanor battery charges that were later dropped — also testified. He told the judge he was also “initiated” as a sophomore in 2009. So was a friend of his.
When Ogarek asked him if anything “unusual” happened the day the two boys were allegedly attacked in September 2012, he said, “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Another boy said he was initiated in a similar fashion in the summer of 2012 and again after the school year started.
Several soccer players also described an alleged incident where Divincenzo told freshman players he’d have varsity players “take their thumbs and stick it up our butt” if they didn’t do a better job of communicating.
A few said they thought he was joking, others thought he was serious.
Finally, Ogarek said in her opening statement Divincenzo walked over to one student after a summer 2012 attack and said, “Welcome to the team.”
That boy has yet to testify.