Maine West coach trial gets testimony from ex-soccer player

December 18, 2013 (DES PLAINES, Ill.)

Michael Divincenzo faces battery, hazing and other charges connected to Maine West High School. A former member of the team testified that he was first a victim of alleged hazing but later hazed others.

Divincenzo, 37, went to school and played soccer at Maine West. Then he coached the program for a dozen years. But he was fired after the hazing scandal came to the attention of school officials.

Prosecutors say he was aware of but ignored a culture of sexual abuse and hazing in the name of what players called initiation into the team family. One recent graduate testified that he was initiated when he was a freshman, recalling, "I got taken down... they poked me between my [private area]... then we shook hands... I didn't feel I got hurt or anything."

Player after player has testified about the process they call initiation. Several have said they were unhurt and thought nothing of it. It was part of being welcomed to the soccer family. Others testified they didn't like it, and one former player who witnessed an incident says he felt uncomfortable and avoided the varsity players afterward.

The former player who was victim of a so-called initiation as a freshman became team captain as a senior and a participant as an alleged perpetrator, telling the court, "I initiated one of the kids... gave him a wedgie and did the same thing they did to me as a freshman."

The former student was not allowed to attend graduation ceremonies with his class. Most of the students involved in the alleged abuse were suspended from the team and school.

Divincenzo's trial began on Tuesday. Prosecutors say the coach from Elk Grove Village knew some members of his soccer team were being attacked in June, August and September of 2012. Divincenzo is charged with misdemeanor battery, hazing and failure to report abuse.

In court, two of the alleged victims who were freshmen at the time said that in September 2012 varsity players at Maine Township tackled them, pulled down their shorts and poked sticks at them.

"The hazing was rampant. It went beyond child's play. He perpetuated it," prosecuting attorney Margaret O'Garek said.

Defense attorney Todd Pugh said the charges have ruined Divincenzo's life. He said the former coach never witnessed the incidents and punished the players who were allegedly involved.

"This case is about teens behaving badly. It's absolutely unprecedented that he is being held responsible for actions he didn't witness," Pugh said.

Divincenzo was fired by Maine Township High School District 207 about a year ago.

Five former players have alleged they were victims of abuse. Many have filed a civil suit. Tony Romanucci is their attorney.

"These children were hold down, they were battered, they were sexually penetrated. The coaches knew what was going on," Romanucci said.

Divincenzo waived his right to a jury trial. A judge will decide the case, and a decision could be reached as early as Friday.

Copyright © 2024 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.