Maine West coaches tell cops they didn’t know about hazing
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters December 18, 2012 7:54PM
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:22AM
Two embattled Maine West High School soccer coaches claimed they didn’t know about hazing on their teams, according to a police report.
The varsity coach, Michael Divincenzo, also denied threatening to have older players assault freshmen if they didn’t communicate, as has been previously alleged, according to Des Plaines Police reports released to the Sun-Times Tuesday.
Emilio Rodriguez, the freshman coach, told police he had never witnessed anything “illegal” happening to his players, according to the reports.
The documents were released by the city a day before the Maine Township High School District 207 school board is set to hold a special meeting to discuss a “personnel item that is related to the Maine West investigation.”
The coaches have been accused of sanctioning a hazing culture at the school that allegedly led to the sexual assault of at least three soccer players and one baseball player, according to a lawsuit filed last month. Neither the coaches nor their attorneys returned calls for comment Tuesday. The lawsuit was sparked by an alleged hazing in September in which multiple soccer players said older players sodomized them with fingers and sticks.
Divincenzo told police on Nov. 13 that he became aware of an incident in September only after Rodriguez texted him and told him a freshman player was “pantsed.”
“Divincenzo then reprimanded his team and made them go to the freshman team and apologize and do 100 push ups in front of them,” according to the report. “Divincenzo stated that he has never heard of an ‘initiation’ for the soccer team and no player had ever disclosed anything to him.”
About two weeks before Divincenzo spoke to police, Rodriguez was interviewed.
Rodriguez told police that in late September his players went on a run, and when they returned, a player told him “varsity players tackled him and tried to pull his pants down,” according to the report. The teen said the older players didn’t get his underwear down.
Rodriguez texted Divincenzo and said, “Tell your guys to lay off my guys.”
Divincenzo asked what happened, and Rodriguez said varsity players had “pulled [a freshman’s] pants down. Not the boxers. They are making a big deal about it.”
Divincenzo replied: “Sorry I talked to them it won’t happen again.”
The varsity players then were sent to the freshman practice to do the push-ups. During the push-ups, some of the older players asked the younger ones “Who snitched?” Rodriguez told police
The coaches’ statements conflict with what some of the alleged victims told police and what has been claimed in a lawsuit.
Maine West’s principal also reported to police an alleged incident in which Divincenzo is said to have witnessed an initiation in July, congratulated the victim, “welcomed him, and asked him if it was all good,” according to previously released reports. The incident was not addressed in the summary of an officer’s interview with Divincenzo.
After interviews with Divincenzo, Rodriguez and other coaches, police and a prosecutor determined no charges could be filed, according to the police reports. That was on Nov. 21, before the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office began a “top-to-bottom” review of the allegations by the sex crimes division, which is ongoing.
Officers also interviewed several potential recipients of an “initiation,” and most told police they had only been pushed down or given wedgies. But another claimed other students gave him a “sharkey” multiple times — he said it involved other players putting their fingers between the cheeks of his buttocks but not in his anus.
Police told the student’s mother it was a battery, and she said he wound up quitting the team.
Meanwhile, former students plan to attend the special school board meeting to show support for the coaches — especially the man they call “Divo.” Joey Ruffolo, a 2008 grad, said it’s only fair to support the coach who was always there for him.
“He’s always had his door open,” said Ruffolo, 22. “. . . To be there for him almost like he was for us, it’s something I feel like I should do just to pay him back for the stuff he’s done for us.”