“Turkey day” gone affray

Virginia Wesleyan University punishes 13 student athletes over breaking  COVID-19 protocol

~Matthew Morhiser, Sports Editor~

Now that the Christopher Newport University (CNU) community has wrapped up the Thanksgiving break and returned for the final two weeks of classes, the restful and earned time off should not go forgotten. Yes, we all “recharged our batteries” so to speak, but we should all remember the time we spent away from the stresses of the daily school days to power through the few we have left this tumultuous semester. That would be the preeminent goal for most of us, but not for 13 female students athletes at Virginia Beach’s private university Virginia Wesleyan (VWU). 

A week before Thanksgiving on Nov. 19, 13 VWU Women’s Basketball team members gathered for a team-only “friendsgiving” celebration. Only a few days later, all 13 of the students were suspended from their on-campus housing contracts, and implications of further academic penalty were hinted at by one of the athletes. VWU did not indicate who had received punishment or the extent of their disciplinary actions, but they did reveal the university’s off-campus policies and regulations had been broken. So, what could have possibly happened for such drastic measures to be covertly taken by the university?

According to Wavy News 10, Beverly Zimmerman-Wright, who lives across the street from where the gathering took place, took issue with one of the students who parked their vehicle near the end of her driveway. Zimmerman-Wright told freshman Gabbie Clay there is a no parking sign on 20th Bay Street, so she must move her vehicle someplace else. In Zimmerman-Wright’s account, the confrontation turned heated, and Clay, originally from Fairfax, berated Zimmerman-Wright for the way she was speaking to her with a barrage of expletives. 

Zimmerman-Wright concludes her recalling of the story by saying Clay opened her car door and hit Zimmerman-Wright’s leg. This, of course, causes Zimmerman-Wright to yell at Clay again, and Clay exits her car to physically come face-to-face with Zimmerman-Wright. The two parties come to blows, and that is the extent of the information that has been released on the hostile run-in. 

Clay filed an assault charge on Zimmerman-Wright, and the vexed neighbor did as well. Zimmerman-Wright also claims to have acquired a temporary restraining order against the young athlete. 

As mentioned above, the 13 VWU Women’s Basketball team members were released from their housing contracts, but not for the alleged confrontation between Zimmerman-Wright and Clay. Instead, the university has specifically mentioned the breach of off-campus COVID-19 protocols being the source for their domicile expulsion. 

Senior graduate student and basketball team member Makenna McSweeney was the first to speak out on the situation. With no word from the university on her situation, McSweeney, who hosted the gathering, said she was released from the team and expelled from the university entirely in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot. After the altercation, Zimmerman-Wright called the VWU to inform the school of the small gathering. McSweeney then said she and other students who attended the party were called in for private questioning. 

Ultimately, McSweeney said she alone was dismissed from VWU, but she believes the reasons for her expulsion were unjustified, She said the school failed to release any official off-campus COVID-19 protocols. She admitted masks were required and temperatures were taken in the team’s closed environment practices, but McSweeny said that was the comprehensiveness of the university’s guidelines. 

McSweeney’s claims against her former university are decidedly condemnatory, but a quick visit to the school’s official website shows several updates designated towards students and staff have been issued dating back to Mar. third. According to the site, the university’s COVID-19 restrictions are in accordance with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and any student who breaks those guidelines are subject to the university’s disciplinary actions. 

The VDH website lists Gov. Ralph Northam’s restriction of 25 people or less for social and event gatherings as a limit to the amount of people that should be allowed attendance, and on Sept. 19, VWU supported the guideline in one of their COVID-19 Campus Updates. VWU wrote: 

“We are aware that social activity increases on the weekend. We are closely monitoring student behavior, and individuals who violate guidelines are subject to disciplinary action. Please note that while you may feel more comfortable among your peer group, relaxing social distancing and facial covering efforts, reports from other institutions show that these actions contribute greatly to the spread of the virus.” 

While McSweeney’s party did adhere to the limitation on the number of bodies allowed entrance, it appears the university did not deem sufficient social distancing or regulatory mask usage occurred. That, along with the physical altercation, led the university to take action against McSweeney and the other student athletes. It remains to be seen what the basketball players’ responses will be to the disciplinary actions taken against them. 

CNU has similar limitations set in place for off-campus gatherings that VWU does. CNU’s “Mandatory Requirements for Operation During COVID-19 Emergency” says no student should hold or attend an off-campus gathering that exceeds 20 people, does not maintain social distancing of six feet or more or does not require face cloth coverings. As the fall semester comes to a close, no changes to these rules seem to appear anywhere in the immediate future. 

VDH information obtained from: Virginia Department of Health

VWU’s COVID-19 protocol obtained from: Coronavirus/COVID-19 Information | Virginia Wesleyan University (vwu.edu) 

Wavy 10’s coverage: Virginia Wesleyan player expelled, 13 others banned from campus housing after off-campus gathering | WAVY.com  

Virginian-Pilot coverage: Virginia Wesleyan women’s basketball player says she was dismissed from school over Thanksgiving gathering; others disciplined – The Virginian-Pilot – The Virginian-Pilot (pilotonline.com) 

CNU’s “Mandatory Requirements for Operations During COVID-19 Emergency”: Microsoft Word – T3_Mandatory Requirements for Operations_2020.docx (cnu.edu) 

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