Board votes to fire Maine West coach accused in hazing scandal
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN AND JON SEIDEL Staff Reporters December 19, 2012 8:12PM
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:52PM
The Maine Township school board voted late Wednesday to fire one of the soccer coaches at the center of a hazing scandal at Maine West High School.
Board President Sean Sullivan said varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo violated the district’s policy “by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing.”
Divincenzo is suspended without pay while the dismissal process plays out.
The board’s resolution said Divincenzo damaged his reputation and the school district’s, caused harm to staff and students and failed to serve as a role model.
Sullivan said the board no longer believes it needs to wait for other agencies to complete investigations into claims of hazing at the high school.
Those claims are now the focus of a “top-to-bottom” review by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. That came after a lawsuit was filed accusing the coach of sanctioning hazing rituals that led to the alleged sexual assault of multiple soccer players and a baseball player.
But Sullivan cautioned, “The school district is not conceding the accuracy of the allegations made in the lawsuit now pending against the district over the hazing controversy.”
The board also cited a previously undisclosed allegation against Divincenzo in its resolution, accusing him of letting varsity soccer players dunk “less senior” players’ heads and grab their genitals in a hot tub at a training camp in Wisconsin.
The school board’s decision stunned a room full of former students who pleaded with the Maine Township High School District 207 board earlier in the night not to fire Divincenzo or Emilio Rodriguez, the freshman soccer coach. Both men are targets of the lawsuit.
Their supporters waited about three hours while the board met in closed session. They left in a hurry after the vote, clearly upset by the board’s decision.
“He gave his life to this sport,” former student Cara Franke said after the meeting. “Every second I saw him he was talking about soccer. . . . He really cares about his team more than anything else. Now that’s the one thing in life that he’s lost.”
Divincenzo did not return a call for comment, and he has ignored several earlier calls from the Chicago Sun-Times. Rodriguez declined to comment when reached by phone after the board’s unanimous vote.
Both coaches have denied having any knowledge of hazing on the teams to Des Plaines Police, according to police reports. Those reports show that police and a prosecutor determined no charges could be filed after the coaches’ interviews.
That was before state’s attorney’s review began.
Tony Romanucci, the Chicago lawyer who filed the lawsuit against the district and coaches over the hazing allegations, said the board acted appropriately. He also renewed a call Wednesday night for the board to fire Maine West’s principal.
Divincenzo has 17 days to ask for a hearing. If he does, the process could take a year or more.
The board’s resolution also cites previously reported allegations that he let older members of the soccer team haze younger members in September and July and knew of an assault on the baseball team in 2008.