Maine Township High School District 207 voted Wednesday night to fire one of the coaches at the center of a hazing scandal at Maine West, the Sun-Times is reporting.
The school board unanimously agreed to suspend Michael Divincenzo without pay while the dismissal process plays out.
Last month, a lawsuit was filed accusing Divincenzo and another coach, Emilio Rodriguez, of sanctioning hazing rituals as part of the team’s culture, leading to the alleged sexual assault of at least three soccer players and a baseball player on a team also coached by Divincenzo.
During a public comment session before the school board made the decision to fire Divincenzo, a former Maine West High School student asked the standing-room only crowd of about 50 people to raise their hands if they supported the coaches. Hands shot up all over the room.
For a little more than 30 minutes, parents and former students defended the coaches and spoke of their contributions to the school and to the students.
“Clearly we don’t have to be here, we’ve already moved on from Maine West, but these two individuals we’re talking about today, they meant a lot to each and every one of us that’s in this room today,” said Alex Esquivez, a 2009 grad.
Also at the meeting before the school board vote was Tony Romanucci, the Chicago lawyer representing the victims of the alleged hazing. Romanucci, who said he was at the meeting on behalf of clients, renewed his call for the firing of the coaches and for Maine West’s principal, Audrey Haugan.
The coaches have refused to speak publicly, ignoring several requests from the Chicago Sun-Times for comment. Their lawyers also have failed to return calls.
Des Plaines Police said in reports released Tuesday that both coaches had denied any knowledge of hazing on the school’s soccer teams.
District officials have aid they won’t tolerate hazing and will hire an independent investigator to look into the claims, which also are the focus of a “top-to-bottom” review by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s sex-crimes division.
The coaches hadbeen reassigned with pay and were not allowed on school grounds. They were told in October, shortly after the allegations surfaced, not to contact current or former students or staff members, district records show.
The controversy began after an alleged incident in late September in which police were told older soccer players sodomized multiple younger players as a form of initiation to the team, according to reports.
In letters written to Divincenzo and Rodriguez informing them of their reassignments in early October, Assistant Supt. Greg Dietz said witnesses alleged the coaches “had knowledge that orchestrated ‘initiation’ acts were being carried out” by members of the soccer team.
Maine West’s principal also reported to police an alleged incident in which Divincenzo was said to have witnessed an initiation in July, congratulated the victim, “welcomed him, and asked him if it was all good,” according to police reports.
Six teens have so far been charged with misdemeanors.
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