Attorney criticizes Dist. 207’s response to 2008 hazing

Attorneys representing the family of a 14-year-old Maine West High School student who says members of the boys varsity soccer team sexually assaulted him in September, criticized the school district Monday for not dealing more harshly with a 2008 hazing incident.

“I was appalled to learn that Maine Township school district has just now acknowledged they knew of a hazing incident in 2008 on a baseball team led by the coach now accused of sanctioning the sexual assault of a 14-year-old soccer player in September,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said in a news release Monday.

According to a lawsuit filed last week, on Sept. 27 the 14-year-old was pushed and shoved by team members, who held him down, tore off his underwear and sodomized him. The lawsuit alleges the attack took place during school hours on school property.

Romanucci has scheduled a news conference Wednesday at his Chicago law office to unveil a letter from school officials about the 2008 hazing, which he says was “swept under the rug by school officials, while coaches who sanctioned the activity continued with their coaching duties.”

In the 2008 incident, it is alleged that four members of the freshman baseball team were accused of pulling down a teammate’s pants in a school locker room.

In a statement released Sunday night, Maine Township High School District 207 officials acknowledged the 2008 hazing was “similar in pattern” to the Sept. 27 hazing and that the same coach, Michael Divincenzo, oversaw the baseball and soccer programs at the time of both the 2008 and 2012 incidents.

District 207’s leadership says it was made aware only last week of the spring 2008 hazing, though Maine West officials knew about and disciplined the students involved soon after the event, District 207 spokesman Dave Beery said Monday.

“It was dealt with as a student discipline matter,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to have been addressed as a personnel issue at that time.”

Beery said the particulars of the 2008 and Sept. 27 hazings “appear to be different,” though he stressed it does not minimize the gravity of the 2008 incident nor mean such behavior is tolerated. He added these incidents do not “indicate and define a culture.”

District 207 has taken disciplinary action against 10 students on the varsity soccer team involved in the Sept. 27 hazing and has temporarily reassigned Divincenzo and freshmen coach Emilio Rodriguez with pay. Both are also District 207 teachers.

Three Maine West soccer coaches who are not teachers have been removed from their coaching responsibilities and reassigned to other duties not specified.

Divincenzo’s and Rodriguez’s phone numbers at Maine West have been disconnected and neither could be reached. Maine West Athletic Director Chris Addante also could not be reached Monday.

Beery said the district would not make Addante available for comment, given the pending litigation.

The coaches’ reassignment will remain and no further action is likely pending the outcome of the district’s internal inquiry and a separate investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services, Beery said.

The district has asked parents and students to step forward and report any additional cases of hazing, though none have emerged thus far, he said.

Meanwhile, regarding the Sept. 27 incident, Des Plaines police have petitioned six Maine West students to juvenile court on charges of battery and hazing. None was charged with sexual assault upon the recommendation of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, Deputy Police Chief Nick Treantafeles said.

The state’s attorney’s office has declined to comment on the case.

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District 207 says 2008 Maine West hazing case similar to 2012 allegations

  Antonio Romanucci, seen here during a news conference to announce the family of a 14-year-old boy had filed a lawsuit against school officials and former coaches at Maine West High School in Des Plaines over hazing, says he was appalled to learn that district officials knew of a 2008 hazing incident involving a team led by the same coach. Bob Chwedyk/
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