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More Maine West High School hazing allegations surface

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — More claims have surfaced involving hazing by student-athletes at Maine West High School in what an attorney for parents of the alleged victims has called a "culture" of hazing at the school.

Lawyers announced Wednesday that three new plaintiffs have been added to a lawsuit filed against Maine Township High School District 207, Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan and coaches on the Des Plaines school's soccer and baseball teams, alleging that school officials allowed the hazing. The suit claims that the hazing involved physical and sexual assaults on players.

District officials have asserted that they took immediate action — including alerting police and child welfare agency officials and reassigning coaches who are also classroom teachers — when recent allegations of a hazing incident on the boys soccer team came to light.

But Tony Romanucci, an attorney for the plaintiffs, claims the district "raised a blind eye" to multiple hazing allegations — the earliest in 2007.

"What they did was wrong and continues to be wrong," Romanucci said in a news conference at his law office.

In one incident from 2008, members of the baseball team tore off a freshman player's pants and underwear and exposed his genitals multiple times, the complaint alleges.

The alleged victim's mother — who declined to give her identity and appeared at the news conference wearing a baseball hat and large sunglasses — said she notified a school official shortly after she learned of the incident and requested that her son be transferred to a different school.

That transfer was immediately granted, the mother said.

When she learned of the recent hazing allegations, the mother said it "sickened" her.

"My son was one too many," she said.

District officials said earlier this week that they first learned of the 2008 allegation on Nov. 16. They said the case was handled at the school level at the time but said they notified state authorities when it came to the attention of district officials.

In the original lawsuit filed earlier this month, parents of a 14-year-old Maine West freshman soccer player contend their son was beaten and sodomized by a group of teammates during soccer practice Sept. 27. The suit claims the teammates tore the boy's pants and underwear while holding him down on the ground and beating him.

Two other soccer players were similarly hazed, one in 2007 and another this year, the lawsuit claims. The hazings are characterized in the suit as the "custom, tradition, ritual and/or long-standing practice" carried out by "veteran" soccer team members against younger players promoted to the varsity team.

Five soccer coaches were removed by the district pending the conclusion of its investigation. Two of them — Michael DiVincenzo, head boys and girls varsity coach, and freshman boys coach Emilio Rodriguez — were placed on paid leave and "temporarily reassigned" from their teaching duties while the investigation continues, according to district spokesman David Beery.

DiVincenzo was also the freshman baseball coach at the time of the 2008 incident, school officials said. He and Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Beery said an internal investigation intends to determine how the school handled the 2008 allegation. He said he did not think any outside agencies were notified at that time, but the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and the school's resource officer, a Des Plaines police officer, were alerted to the allegation after it came to the attention of district officials.

A Des Plaines police spokesman said this week that the department was not notified about the incident in 2008.

District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace encouraged anyone with knowledge of similar incidents to contact him. Beery said Tuesday he was unaware of any further reports of hazing coming to the district. But Romanucci said he believes more students have been victimized on the school's sports teams and claimed phone calls were pouring into his office with parents saying their children were hazed or bullied at the school.

The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation and an injunction ending the alleged hazing ritual. But Romanucci said the coaches as well as school and district leaders should be fired.

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