An outpouring of support for two Maine West High School coaches named in a bullying and hazing lawsuit has quickly grown on a Facebook page started for that purpose on Nov. 29. In less than one week approximately 800 people have “liked” the “Support for Divo and Coach Rodriguez” page, which was, according to the description, “A page created by students of Divo and Coach Rodriquez to show their support of these men in hopes of combating the negativity surrounding them.”
Michael Divincenzo, physical education teacher and varsity boys soccer coach at Maine West, and Emilio Rodriguez, applied arts and technology teacher and freshman boys soccer coach at Maine West, were named in a lawsuit filed by four families in November, which accused Maine Township High School District 207 administrators, faculty, coaches and staff of encouraging and permitting acts of bullying and hazing to occur among students on athletic teams.
Ashley and Alison Owens, sisters and Maine West alumni, started the page.
Ashley Owens, currently an Oakton Community College student, said the quickly rising popularity of the Facebook page has had her glued to her phone in the last week.
“I knew people felt the same way; I’m just surprised at how many and how fast,” Owens said.
Owens said when she first learned Divincenzo was named in the bullying and hazing lawsuit, she could not believe it.
“He’s such a good guy, I just can’t think of him as someone who would do that,” Owens said.
Owens said she set up the Facebook page to show people that Divincenzo was a nice person, and to let him know there were people that cared about him.
“I thought I just can’t sit here and do nothing,” Owens said.
Owens, who plans to study criminal psychology, said the Facebook page was intended to express support for the coaches, not to challenge the families that filed the bullying and hazing lawsuit.
“It’s not that we’re going against the people or the families that were harmed in the hazing rituals,” Owens said. “We’re just simply supporting the coaches because we do not believe that they would have sanctioned or watched the hazing that went on.”
One Facebook user wrote on the “Support for Divo and Coach Rodriguez” page:
“Known Divo since he was a little kid. He would never knowingly let anything like this happen.”
Another Facebook user wrote:
“I hope the coaches had no idea, but, on the other side, I know one of the victims, he has been destroyed. Trying hard to not pick a side. Praying for both sides.”
“As are we all Alice; the point of this page is not to chose sides, it's simply to shed light on a side of the coaches that no one else seems to care to know about. There is no doubt that something happened to those students, there is doubt, however, that the coaches knew of it and, in many peoples minds, no possible way they would have allowed such actions to take place had they known. Please let your friend know that we are not against him and that we hope he will be able to move on once he has healed and forgive when he is ready to do so.”
The description of the “Support for Divo and Coach Rodriguez” also stated:
“This page has been set up by students of Divo and Coach Rodriquez who know deep within themselves that these men are amazing role models that would never have tolerated nor condoned any of the activities the press has stated they knew about.”
As a result of D-207's investigation into bullying and hazing reports , disciplinary action was taken against 10 students, according to a statement from D-207, and two coaches, Divincenzo and Rodriguez, were relieved of their coaching and teaching duties, were temporarily reassigned, with pay, pending the conclusion of the investigation. Three coaches who were not Maine West teachers were removed from their coaching responsibilities, the school district stated.
Antonio Romanucci, an attorney representing the four families that filed the complaint, at a press conference on Nov. 28, said all four incidents described in the complaint involved freshmen being promoted to junior varsity or varsity athletic teams and also involved Divincenzo.
“He is a common person in all four of those,” Romanucci said.
Facebook users have been sharing stories about their experiences with Divincenzo and Rodriguez on the Owens’ Facebook page. Ashley Owens shared her experience as well:
"I guess now is a good time to speak as "I" instead of "we" and tell my Divo story as myself. Like many other people are say, Divo changed my life, not only changed it, but saved it. I bonded with Divo my senior year. I'd seen him around a lot, but I hadn't been close to him. Like every other teen, I was going through all the stress of leaving high school for a new world, and it scared the absolute shit out of me. My mother had recently won a fight with Cancer, I didn't talk to my father or anyone on that side of the family, and I had absolutely no clue what to do with my life. My grades were dropping, and to be honest, I was depressed. I didn't show it, but I always had the thought in the back of my head telling me, "If you just kill yourself, you could stop being so tired all the time." I never planned to do it, it was just a little nagging voice. I masked all my shames and doubts in myself with humor. Most people didn't notice this, but it was at our interviews with Divo that he brought it to attention. I'll never forget sitting down with him to discuss my progress in the class when he called me on my bluff. I constantly picked on myself due to my weight, saying things during trust activities like, "I hope those are strong ropes" or "Sorry for the heavy load." He instantly called me on it, asking me why I did this. He told me of his own issues with his weight and how he understood it, he told me not to do that, to be confident and not to mask my emotions by picking fun at myself, that by doing so, I give the right to other people. I remember staring at him with a look of complete stupor as I fought back tears. I didn't want to cry, and I simply nodded and told him okay. He gave me a hug and I remember when I walked away I couldn't hold in the tears anymore. It was after that conversation that I did as he said, I stopped picking fun of myself and worked to become confident. He did small things to help me like doing the trust fall before me and making a comment that if we could catch him, we could catch all of us. Throughout the course of his class, the nagging in the back of my head stopped and was replaced by a voice telling me to try harder, I wasn't the best rock climber, and that started to anger me, all I wanted to do was reach the top of the last climbing wall, I remember trying it day after day near the end of the semester and when I did finally make it I felt so accomplished. I was scared to go on the trip to Devil's lake but Divo convinced me, and on that trip I climbed one of the natural walls there, when I was only about 5 feet from the top I got stuck. I couldn't jump up fast enough to grab the ledge, after what felt like hours of refusing a hand from people up top, I finally caught a grip on my shoe and launched myself to the top. I was welcomed by a smile from Divo and was told how he was proud of me. I'll never forget completing that and I know how to this day that voice in the back of my head pushes me to go farther in everything I try to do. I don't want to think of how I'd be today had that other voice continued to fester. Divo saved my life and I never thanked him. This is the only way I could think of to repay him. He taught us to trust each other with our lives. Hopefully this time, we can save him. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Divo, you never gave up on me, thank you."