School district officials in Park Ridge on Wednesday evening voted unanimously to dismiss a high school coach accused of turning a blind eye to hazing.
Teacher and varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo was suspended without pay while his dismissal is pending.
A civil lawsuit alleges Divincenzo condoned a culture of hazing. Four students say they were sexually assaulted by their teammates and that Divincenzo and freshman coach Emilio Rodriguez knew what was going on.
In one alleged incident, Divincenzo is accused of watching a soccer player being sexually assaulted by members last July. A police report obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times indicated Divincenzo congratulated the victim after the episode and "asked him if it was all good."
"There was a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the children, and that failed," said attorney Tony Romanucci.
But for roughly three hours Wednesday evening, district officials heard from former players and parents who defended Divincenzo .
"It was a culture of heart, pride and desire to improve ourselves as men. That is what they sanctioned," former team captain Tait Jensen told the board.
Many who spoke said they're not questioning the victims but insisted there's no way either coach knew what was happening.
"I trust my kids with this gentleman, and you'd be doing a huge disservice to the community if you were even to even think about terminating him," said parent Josh Thvedt.
Divincenzo and Rodriguez had been reassigned without pay during the course of the investigation. The Cook County State's Attorney's Office is also looking into the case to determine whether any district employees broke the law.
Divincenzo has the option of appealing to the Illinois State Board of Education. If he requests a hearing, that process can take a year or more to complete, district officials said.
Romanucci said the hazing may go back as far as 2006. Six Maine West students have been charged as juveniles with battery and hazing while four other players have been disciplined by the school.