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Maine West recognizes second hazing incident involving same coach

Maine West High School Des Plaines   |  Sun-Times files

Maine West High School in Des Plaines | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:18AM

The Maine Township school district acknowledged Sunday night it recently learned of a 2008 hazing incident on a baseball team led by the coach now accused of sanctioning the sexual assault of a 14-year-old soccer player in a hazing ritual this year.

The incident was reported to officials at Maine West High School in August 2008, according to the district, and involved players for the freshman team coached by Michael Divincenzo, who is now reassigned with pay from his duties as varsity boys’ soccer coach at the school.

Now district officials are asking anyone with knowledge of similar hazing incidents to report them.

“We have already begun taking steps to re-emphasize within our schools the serious nature of bullying and hazing,” said Supt. Ken Wallace, “and to send the clear message that we will act decisively to stop bullying and hazing from reoccurring and to investigate and strongly respond if it occurs.”

At least four freshman baseball players allegedly pulled down a teammate’s pants in the school locker room in spring 2008, according to the district.

When the hazing was reported, district officials said, the students involved were interviewed and disciplined at the school level.

But administration officials at Maine Township High School District 207 said they didn’t learn about the incident until Nov. 16, just days before Chicago lawyer Antonio Romanucci sued the district over the alleged hazing of the 14-year-old soccer player.

Maine Township officials said the parents of the baseball player spoke to Wallace and an assistant superintendent. But Wednesday, the family told Wallace it no longer wished to talk about the incident on the advice of an attorney, according to the statement.

The district said Wallace ordered officials to notify the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services about the 2008 incident.

Romanucci confirmed Sunday he’s the attorney mentioned in the district’s statement, and he called the district’s response “appalling.”

“They’ve had a written notification that this incident took place four years ago,” Romanucci said, “and I will be releasing that proof.”

Romanucci wouldn’t elaborate on the spring 2008 incident, though he called it “very egregious conduct” that should have been stopped a long time ago. He said the discipline given to the students involved “was much less than a slap on the wrist.”

“My understanding is that the punishment for these children, pulling down the pants of another child and ridiculing him in front of everyone else, was to be withheld one inning from a baseball game,” Romanucci said.

Divincenzo couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday. He’s previously told the Sun-Times he was advised by the school district and his union not to comment. He and another soccer coach have been reassigned with pay, and three other coaches who don’t teach have been relieved of their coaching duties.

Current and former students at the school have defended Divincenzo, though, and one former soccer player said the coach would never have tolerated hazing as described in Romanucci’s complaint.

That lawsuit accuses Divincenzo and other soccer coaches of ordering the team to do a “campus run” on Sept. 27. That’s when the lawsuit said the 14-year-old soccer player was grabbed by older members of the team who tore off his underwear, held him down, grabbed his testicles and sodomized him with their fingers and other foreign objects.

The lawsuit alleged it was “part of the soccer team’s culture and has been sanctioned by its coaches for years.”

Des Plaines police have already charged six students as juveniles with misdemeanor battery and hazing, and 10 students have been disciplined.

Maine Township school officials denied earlier this week that the incident is indicative of a larger culture of hazing within the district, but Romanucci said two other students were hazed in a similar way on Sept. 27. He also said last week he knew of one other incident before he filed his lawsuit, and he learned of two more since.

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