Maine West Board Votes To Fire Soccer Coach Over Hazing Scandal
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Updated 12/19/12 – 10:16 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Maine Township High School District 207 school board has voted to fire the school’s soccer coach, who has been accused of allowing criminal hazing activities, including the sodomizing of players.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports the board met behind closed doors for about three hours debating the fate of coach Michael Divincenzo.
They then voted unanimously to fire Divincenzo, saying he violated school standards by failing to prevent the hazing.
School Board President Sean Sullivan said board members believed that Divincenzo failed to “adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing.”
Sullivan said the board will take a series of steps to try to prevent future hazing incidents, including staff training, focus groups on bullying and hazing and the hiring of an outside attorney to review board policies and procedures with respect to hazing.
Divincenzo has been suspended without pay, and has the right to appeal his dismissal. Should he choose to do so, the appeal to the Illinois State Board of Education could take a year to complete.
At least four boys have said they were sodomized by other players during hazing rituals at the school over the years, and that Divincenzo and other coaches were present during some of the hazing.
Six Maine West students have been charged with misdemeanor battery for hazing.
During a public comment session before the board’s vote on Wednesday, more than a dozen people, including former players, spoke in support of Divincenzo and junior varsity coach Emilio Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was not fired, but remained on suspension.
After the board’s vote, students angrily left the meeting.
Maine West alum Ashley Owens said, “They needed a scapegoat, and they found it. That’s about it.”
“It’s injustice,” she added.
WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports none of the speakers spoke against the coaches.
Many of the alums wore their old warmup jackets, and said the coaches were inspirational men who taught respect, not hazing.
“I think all of us here can agree that, when you guys decided to bring these two coaches on as employees, it was the perfect decision you’ve ever made in your life,” Owens said. “These men are role models, and an amazing contribution to the school. No one cares about their students more.”
Another alum called the hazing allegations against the coaches manufactured and slanderous lies. Divincenzo and Rodriguez have been accused of condoning the physical and sexual abuse of soccer players during hazing rituals.
Joey Ruffalo played soccer before graduating from Maine West in 2008. He said Divincenzo was inspirational, not abusive.
“They made us a family. We had team unity nights where, you know, no booze, nothing. We’d just sit around a bonfire, joke around, talk about memories, talk about whatever,” he said.
Attorney Tony Romanucci, who represents the families of students who have accused Divincenzo of being present for hazing rituals, said the coaches deserved to be fired.
The lawsuits allege baseball and soccer players grabbed younger players during hazing rituals, held them down, grabbed their testicles, and sodomized them with their fingers and other foreign objects.
Romanucci said he also thinks Maine West principal Audrey Haugan should be fired.
“She failed in her duty to report to DCFS, or to the police,” he said.
“The coaches should be fired, the principal should be fired. That’s where accountability stops, and it should not end,” Romanucci added. “There was a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the children, and that failed.”
The board did not discuss Haugan during the meeting.
The coaches have been accused in a lawsuit of allowing a hazing culture that led to at least three soccer players and one baseball player being sodomized.
The coaches have acknowledged some minor incidents involving soccer players, and said some team members were reprimanded. But the coaches have denied knowing anything about players sexually assaulting one another as part of a hazing ritual.
Des Plaines police, in a report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, said there is not enough evidence to charge soccer coaches Michael Divincenzo or Emilio Rodriguez.
However, prosecutors were continuing a review of the case.