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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 Tuesday 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 the Maine West soccer program and failed to report instances of abuse.
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.
Three Maine West students who say they were hazed by members of the varsity soccer team testified in court Tuesday for the prosecution. Two of them referenced a Sept. 26, 2012, freshman team soccer practice, when they say they were tackled by several members of the varsity team as they were running a lap around the school campus.
Both students, who were 14 years old at the time of the reported incidents, said the older students grabbed them and forced them to the ground, then battered them.
Both students said one of their teammates told then-freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez about the attack, which took place near the soccer stadium bleachers. Rodriguez texted Divincenzo, the varsity coach, about it, the students said.
Divincenzo ordered the varsity team to do about 100 push-ups in front of the freshmen as punishment, the students said.
But later during a soccer practice, the freshman team was told by Divincenzo they could face punishment if they didn't do a "communication drill" properly, according to the students.
Divincenzo said he'd have the varsity team batter the younger players "until you can't walk,'" one of the students said.
That student said Divincenzo "sounded mad," but under cross-examination by defense attorney Todd Pugh, he testified that it was his impression the coach was joking.
A third student who testified Tuesday said he was hazed in a similar manner during a summer soccer camp ran by Divincenzo, and then a second time when the school year had begun.
A 19-year-old Maine West graduate testified that he was one of the varsity players who participated in the Sept. 26 hazing, saying that the team agreed to attack the freshman team as they were running in order to "initiate them."
He said when Divincenzo later found out, he told the varsity players that hazing was "a very serious thing" and that "everyone could get in trouble for it," after he had just seen a story on the news about a student who was hazed.
Defense attorney Pugh said in opening statements that 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."
But Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Margaret Ogarek said Divincenzo was responsible for the culture and failed in his duty to report the abuse.
"The hazing culture and the rate it (abuse) took place was rampant," Ogarek said. "It wasn't just horseplay."
The Cook County state's attorney's office filed criminal charges against Divincenzo in May. The charges are based on events that were reported to have occurred between June 1 and Sept. 26 last year. Both Divincenzo and Rodriguez were fired by Maine Township High School District 207 after the allegations surfaced.
Testimony is expected to continue today at the Cook County courthouse in Skokie.
Trial: Defense attorney says abuse 'never reported' to coach