Former Maine West High School soccer coach Michael Divincenzo perpetuated a culture of hazing in his program by doing nothing to stop initiation practices by his players, a Cook County prosecutor said this morning as the former coach and teacher went on trial on multiple misdemeanor charges.
Divincenzo, 37, of Elk Grove Village, faces charges of hazing, battery and failure to report abuse stemming from allegations he allowed hazing within Maine West soccer program and failed to report instances of abuse.
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Divincenzo, who on Tuesday waived his right to a jury trial and instead is allowing a judge to decide the case, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could land him up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
During opening statements, Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek referenced a Sept. 26, 2012 soccer practice, when two students on the freshmen soccer team reportedly were tackled by several members of the varsity team on the school campus. They were "initiated" by having objects inserted into their buttocks, she said.
One of the freshmen players told then-freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez, who called Divincenzo, the varsity coach. But Ogarek said Divincenzo failed to report the abuse. Instead, she said, he "used it as a way how to be better soccer players."
"The hazing culture and the rate it took place was rampant," Ogarek said. "It wasn't just horseplay."
Defense attorney Todd Pugh said holding Divincenzo criminally liable for actions of third parties is "morally and legally wrong." He noted that the state's attorney's office dropped charges against the students accused of hazing.
The exact nature of what the varsity players did to the freshmen players was never disclosed to Divincenzo, Pugh added.
"It didn't occur in his presence. It was never reported to him," he said. "This case is about teenage boys behaving badly, and the state is taking a precedent-setting position that the coach is criminally responsible."
The criminal charges against Divincenzo are based on events that were reported to have occurred between June 1 and Sept. 26 last year. Both he and Rodriguez were fired by Maine Township High School District 207 after the allegations surfaced.