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Article updated: 12/19/2013 5:50 AM

Ex-player: Maine West soccer coach told team to 'stop the horseplay'

Michael Divincenzo

Michael Divincenzo

 
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A former Maine West High School soccer player testified Wednesday that his varsity teammates openly talked in front of then-coach Michael Divincenzo about hazing younger players, and his own hazing experience brought him "closer to the family."

How closely Divincenzo was paying attention to those conversations is a key disagreement between Cook County prosecutors and the former coach's defense attorneys, as day two of his trial on multiple misdemeanor charges continued.

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's soccer program and failed to report instances of abuse. Divincenzo has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his defense has argued he should not be held liable for his players' actions. Divincenzo on Tuesday waived his right to a jury trial, instead allowing a judge to decide the case.

The Maine West graduate, now 19 years old and testifying for the prosecution, said players talked about "initiations" during stretching exercises. Divincenzo was in the vicinity of those conversations, he testified.

But on cross-examination by defense attorney Thomas Breen, the witness said Divincenzo was doing other things at the time. Divincenzo occasionally told players to stop "roughhousing," the student added.

The student said he participated in an "initiation" of two freshmen soccer players on Sept. 26, 2012, by tackling them as they were running a lap around the Des Plaines school's campus and then assaulting them.

"We decided to ambush them. We did the same thing (older players) did to me freshman year," said the former varsity team captain.

He said initiations were common for players who got brought up to the varsity squad.

After he was initiated, the former player said, "I got up, we shook hands, and we continued our run. (They said), 'Welcome to the squad.'

"When it happened to me, I wasn't traumatized," he said. "I felt I was closer to the family."

The former player testified that on Sept. 26, Divincenzo ordered the team to do 100 pushups and 100 situps as punishment for assaulting the two freshmen players, who were 14 years old at the time.

"He was very serious. You could tell he was angry," the student said during cross-examination.

Earlier that summer, during a soccer camp hosted by Divincenzo, the student said another player was hazed when the coach was about 15 to 20 feet away.

"He told us to get back to the practice and stop the horseplay," the student said.

The student who prosecutors say was assaulted at summer camp testified later Wednesday that he wasn't harmed by the initiation; in fact, he was laughing when he was helped up off the ground by the older players.

Divincenzo later asked if the student was OK and said "welcome to the team," the student testified.

Nora Harms-Pavelski, an administrator with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, testified Wednesday that there are no records of Divincenzo calling the state's child abuse and neglect hotline, even though coaches are required under state law to report signs of abuse.

Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek said she plans to call one more witness Thursday morning, then expects the state to rest its case.

If convicted, Divincenzo faces up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

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