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posted: 11/27/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: Hazing culture needs to be excised

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Maine West High School has a problem. And we urge school officials to deal with it -- openly and without equivocation.

That's easier said than done. School officials and coaches are being sued by the mother of a 14-year-old Maine West student, saying her freshman son was sexually assaulted by members of the boys varsity soccer team in a hazing incident in September on school grounds during school hours.

With a lawsuit in place, school officials are not saying much about the incident -- which resulted in disciplinary action against 10 students. Two coaches who also are teachers in District 207 were temporarily reassigned with pay. Three coaches who were not teachers were removed from their coaching responsibilities.

Last week, when the lawsuit was announced, the attorney representing the mother said hazing was sanctioned by the coaches and had been occurring at the school for several years.

School officials acknowledged Sunday that a second case had come to light, this one dating to 2008 and involving the same coach -- Mike DiVincenzo -- as in the latest incident.

Who is responsible and what the punishment should be in these cases is not yet clear. But the similarities in these cases cannot be denied. Somehow, these young athletes have come to believe this is acceptable behavior. Somehow, a culture exists that teaches them that.

In the 2008 case, four members of the freshman baseball team were accused of pulling down a teammate's pants in a school locker room. The baseball team was coached by DiVincenzo.

In the September case, according to the suit filed last week, a boy was pushed and shoved by varsity soccer team members and then held down and sodomized. The varsity soccer team was coached by DiVincenzo.

"We are working on an action plan for our staff and our families," Maine Township High School District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace said Sunday. "We need to emphasize how important it is not to tolerate this when it does happen and to take steps to make sure it never happens again."

We couldn't agree more. Hazing is never acceptable -- whether in a high school sports program, a college sorority, a famed college band program or the military. Incidents have been reported in all those areas in the last year. In most cases, a culture existed that looked the other way or encouraged the activity. Those responsible need to be removed from the equation.

Maine West needs to have a cultural reawakening and be a leader in how to prevent these types of incidents in the future. Meanwhile, other schools need to look inward and make sure their culture would not be encouraging of this type of behavior.

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