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Maine West grads support coaches accused of sanctioning alleged sex assult

Maine West High School Des Plaines   |  Sun-Times files

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

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Updated: January 4, 2013 6:17AM

Ashley Owens heard about the hazing allegations at her alma mater, Maine West High School, right after they surfaced.

She said she was disgusted, and maybe even a little ashamed.

But she doesn’t believe that Michael Divincenzo, the varsity soccer coach there, sanctioned the alleged sexual assault of younger players on the boys’ team as a form of hazing.

“We just don’t believe that the coaches would have known about it,” Owens said.

So she created a Facebook page Thursday night in support of Divincenzo — known to the students as “Divo” — and Emilio Rodriguez, another reassigned soccer coach. As of Sunday evening, “Support for Divo and Coach Rodriguez” boasted more than 370 “likes.”

Owens said her sister Alison, another former student of Divincenzo’s, wrote the site’s description noting that “there is no question of the damage” inflicted on the coaches by the accusations that have been made.

“This page has been set up by students of Divo and Coach Rodriguez who know deep within themselves that these men are amazing role models that would never have tolerated nor condoned any of the activities the press has stated they knew about,” it reads.

A Maine Township High School District 207 official has said the coaches have been relieved of their duties and are not allowed on school grounds. Divincenzo has ignored several Chicago Sun-Times requests for comment about the allegations.

Tony Romanucci, the Chicago lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the men and the school district, said he appreciates the freedom of speech of anyone who wants to support the coaches. But he said the strong bonds the coaches developed with the players don’t mask what happened to his clients.

His lawsuit claims the men sanctioned a hazing culture at the school that led to the sexual assault of at least three soccer players and a freshman baseball player.

The school district plans to hire an independent investigator. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Des Plaines police are looking into it.

Cara Franke, a former varsity soccer player and team captain at Maine West who has posted pictures on the Facebook site, played for both coaches. The 2012 graduate said the stories she has heard keep changing.

“I can’t think that all these allegations are true,” Franke said.

Owens graduated from Maine West in 2010 and took Divincenzo’s outdoor education class, where she learned how to get along and work with other people.

“Basically, it was a class where you learn to trust people with your lives,” she said.

Owens said she’s in “deep support” of the parents behind the lawsuit as they pursue consequences for the students who allegedly committed the hazing. But she said the coaches’ “personal showings of character” lead her to believe they didn’t know about it.

“At least we’re trying,” Owens said of her Facebook site, “and it gives us some form of support for ourselves as well as him.”

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