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Former University of South Alabama Head Women’s Volleyball Coach Sexually Harassed and Sexually, Physically and Emotionally Abused Former Players, According to New Lawsuit

Former Head Coach, Alexis Meeks-Rydell, University of South Alabama, school officials, and former assistant coaches are named as defendants in the case  

MOBILE, AL. – A former NCAA Division I head women’s volleyball coach sexually harassed, and physically and emotionally abused her players for several years, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Alabama. The case was brought by several former University of South Alabama volleyball players against former head coach, Alexis Meeks-Rydell. Also named as defendants are the University, Athletic Director Joel Erdmann, and former assistant coaches Rob Chilcoat and Patricia Gandolfo.

Rachael DeMarcus and Alexis Silver came to the University of South Alabama in 2018 as student-athletes pursuing their academic goals, while also competing as NCAA Division I athletes on the school’s women’s volleyball team. Once on campus, however, they were routinely subjected to blatant sexual harassment and sexual, physical, and emotional assault by Meeks-Rydell. The lawsuit alleges Meeks-Rydell created a climate of fear and intimidation among the volleyball team. She regularly overtrained players and coerced them to practice or play while injured, in violation of NCAA bylaws. She would often verbally abuse injured players, ridiculing and accusing them of faking injuries and forcing them to play through serious medical conditions, including concussions and asthma attacks, as well as ankle and knee injuries.

The complaint also alleges that Meeks-Rydell physically and sexually abused her players, pinching each players buttocks as they exited the team bus, and forcing them to engage in “floor hugs” in which team members laid on the ground while Meeks-Rydell laid on top of them. And on at least one occasion, Meeks-Rydell, apparently upset with DeMarcus, slapped her across the face. This behavior continued, unchecked, throughout 2019 and 2020 with the direct knowledge of Erdmann, Chilcoat, Gandolfo, and other university officials, all of whom either could have or should have reported or stopped the abuse, but did neither.

“Alexis Meeks-Rydell and the University of South Alabama failed Rachel DeMarcus, Alexis Silver, and the other student-athletes who endured similar abuse,” said Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and a partner at DiCello Levitt Gutzler. “As has become all too common in these types of abuse cases involving young athletes, the coaches and university officials had a duty to protect them from the abuse they endured under their coach’s care and failed to do so. As a result, Rachel and Alexis were deprived of the educational and athletic opportunities to which they were entitled as student-athletes at the University of South Alabama. These women – and all women, for that matter – deserve so much more.”

According to the lawsuit: “The Plaintiffs’ athletic and academic aspirations were negatively impacted by the misconduct of Meeks-Rydell, and by the University’s facilitation and ratification of her conduct and by the University’s decision to ignore Meeks-Rydell’s relentless and pervasive pattern of harassment and physical, psychological, and emotional abuse, in addition to other wrongful acts by the Defendants. Between 2018 and 2019, both plaintiffs matriculated at the University of South Alabama with the express promise of a prestigious Division I volleyball career and competitive academic opportunities and have since transferred from the University.”

“Meeks-Rydell’s abuse was so severe that my clients not only suffered prolonged physical and psychological issues, but they were left with no choice but to abandon their athletic and academic careers at the University of South Alabama,” said Kenneth P. Abbarno, a DiCello Levitt Gutzler partner and plaintiffs’ co-counsel. “I sincerely hope that we, as a society, are not becoming desensitized to the abuse of young, female athletes at the hands of coaches and other authority figures who they should be able to trust with their physical and emotional well-being. We’ve seen far too many instances of abusive behavior towards athletes who were afraid to speak up due to fear of retribution from their coaches and institutions. This abusive and illegal mistreatment of young athletes simply needs to stop.”

Meeks-Rydell was hired as the University’s Women’s Volleyball Team Head Coach on December 31, 2018 and served in that role until she resigned in February 2021. She currently serves as an assistant coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Former assistant coaches Chilcoat and Gandolfo have also moved on from the university to serve as assistant coaches at Brown University and the University of West Florida, respectively. Erdmann remains at South Alabama as the school’s Athletic Director.

The case is Rachel DeMarcus and Alexis Silver v. University of South Alabama, Alexis Meeks-Rydell, Joel Erdmann, Rob Chilcoat, and Patricia Gandolfo, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, Mobile Division. A copy of the complaint is available upon request and the attorneys are available for media interviews.

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