A Pattern of Abuse? Volleyball Lawsuit Claims Repeated Harassment

By: Amelia Rose Zimlich | Managing Editor | arz1722@jagmail.southalabama.edu

Photo Source: South Alabama Jaguars website

A lawsuit filed on Aug. 31 against former volleyball head coach Alexis Meek-Rydell alleges that she had a reputation of harassment at her various positions prior to being appointed head coach at South Alabama.

Meeks-Rydell acted as assistant coach and then head coach at the University of West Alabama before being hired as head coach at South Alabama on Dec. 31, 2018. The lawsuit, filed by the plaintiffs Rachael DeMarcus and Alexis Silver, claims that Meeks-Rydell, “had a reputation for instilling a pattern and practice of abuse and/or sexually harassing conduct at her previous jobs, including while employed as Head Coach at the University of West Alabama.” 

Stan Williamson, the former athletic director at West Alabama, said he was “not aware of anything unusual during her [Meeks-Rydell’s] time at West Alabama” when reached by phone on Tuesday. Williamson hired Meeks-Rydell as head coach in 2016, according to a press release. He resigned from his position at West Alabama in 2018 and is currently the deputy athletic director at Houston Baptist University.

The lawsuit states that the harassment and abuse happened with the knowledge of athletic director Dr. Joel Erdmann and former assistant coaches Patricia Gandolfo and Robert Chilcoat, who are named as defendants in the suit, along with the University of South Alabama. Chilcoat previously coached with Meeks-Rydell at West Alabama before coming to South Alabama in January 2019. The Vanguard was unable to reach Jinni Frisbey, the senior associate athletic director and deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics, for comment before the time of publication.

According to the lawsuit, Meeks-Rydell would force her team to perform through “serious medical conditions, including asthma attacks, ankle sprains, knee injuries, head injuries, and concussions, among others, sometimes resulting in permanent injuries resulting from improper rehabilitation.”

In a 2019 interview with Playing Above the Line, when asked what challenges the athletic department faces, Erdmann said, “There are constant challenges about student athlete wellness and their health and safety. The most notable are concussion management and the avoidance of, and treatment of, catastrophic injuries. Mental health is a big deal these days…there’s challenges that we face, but they’re not necessarily unique to us. They’re national in scope, so I think we’re managing the world in a pretty effective way. You have to be diligent. You can’t fall asleep.” Erdmann declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by phone on Tuesday.

The lawsuit also states that “Meeks-Rydell used methods disallowed by the NCAA to punish the Team.” Among these methods were “breakfast club” meetings, which forced players to arrive at the gym as early as 4 a.m. and do drills until they passed out, cried or vomited. In the 2021-2022 NCAA Division Manual, Article 17.1.7.11.5 states that “countable athletically related activities shall not occur between midnight and 5 a.m.”, a rule which was adopted in 2010. When reached by phone on Tuesday, the NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative, Dr. Paige Vitulli, declined to comment.

In a statement on Friday, the university said that it “has been made aware that a lawsuit was recently filed that has not yet been served and does not comment on pending litigation.”