NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Until Wednesday afternoon, Makenna McSweeney was a graduate student at Virginia Wesleyan University and a forward for the women’s basketball team. That’s when she found out that her “Friendsgiving” gathering at her home in Ocean View was enough to get her expelled.
It was a case of the domino effect. Fourteen Virginia Wesleyan basketball players gathered at McSweeney’s home Saturday evening, and one of the players got into a physical confrontation with the next-door neighbor over parking. Then, the neighbor called the school early this week.
After that call, the gathering itself became grounds for heavy discipline against the players.
“It was a very quick, short [meeting]: ‘You had a gathering you’re dismissed from the school completely,'” is how McSweeney described the news she got from the university administration.
In a statement, the school said it “has strict COVID-19 safety measures and protocols… and the team members violated these measures with a gathering in an off-campus apartment.” But McSweeney says those guidelines are unclear.
“The COVID guidelines in the student handbook say to follow the CDC guidelines,” she said.
And she says a gathering of 14 her home did not violate those guidelines. But the gathering might never have become an issue if not for a dispute between one of the guest players and the next-door neighbor.
Beverly Zimmerman-Wright, the neighbor, points to a no parking sign on 20th Bay Street outside her home. She says she got into a heated argument with one of the players, Gabrielle Clay, when she asked her to move away from the edge of her driveway.
“(Clay was) telling me that I need to ‘Get the blank blank blank out of her face,’ and I need to mind my blanking business, and I need to carry my ‘old blank blank blank into the house,'” she said.
She says that’s when Clay opened her car door and bumped Zimmerman-Wright’s leg.
“So I pushed the door off of me and then she jumped out of the car and ran to hit me, so I hit her back,” Zimmerman-Wright said.
Clay says she filed an assault charge, while Zimmerman-Wright told WAVY’s Chris Horne that she, too, filed an assault charge and got a temporary restraining order against Clay.
Zimmerman-Wright says she called Virginia Wesleyan about the party earlier this week.
“When a cop came to my house on Monday, [Zimmerman-Wright] was questioned and informed that charges were gonna be made and I feel that that’s what motivated her to call the school,” McSweeney said.
But Zimmerman-Wright says she had already called VWU when the officer came to her door and spoke with her daughter.
The other 13 players who attended the gathering have been banned from on-campus housing. McSweeney says VWU informed her she will not get credit for the graduate course work she had completed so far this semester and will have to repay a $19,000 grant that covered her tuition for the school year.
“We just feel that the punishment is absolutely not fair. It’s not comparable to any other student’s situation thus far at all,’ McSweeney said.
Jordan Crump, a men’s basketball player at VWU, posted a video on social media saying he was upset about what happened to the women’s basketball team. He questioned why the gathering was different than working out together or working out together on campus.
Virginia Wesley released a statement in response to McSweeney’s expulsion. Here it in in full:
“The University takes very seriously the safety of the campus community and has strict COVID-19 safety measures and protocols in place to protect the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff. This information has been communicated clearly and regularly and we are proud that our community members have largely done their part to keep themselves and their peers safe.
Unfortunately, several members of our women’s basketball team violated these protocols with a gathering at an off-campus apartment. The consequence was suspension from on-campus housing and additional discipline by the intercollegiate athletics department.
There are also strict athletic practice protocols in place by the University and the intercollegiate athletics department. These protocols have been repeatedly communicated throughout the campus community, athletic department, and all teams. During practice, the women’s basketball team wears face coverings and plays in a controlled environment overseen by athletic staff, coaches and sports medicine personnel.”Virginia Wesleyan University