SUSANNAH CLARK and RYAN MARR
R&B singer Chris Brown’s surprise visit to the Goolrick gymnasium on Tuesday evening prompted national coverage and an uproar on campus, as the singer and his entourage played several pick-up games with UMW basketball players.
Hundreds of students watched from the sidelines, taking photos with their camera phones and cheering when Brown dribbled the ball.
Brown’s entourage was invited by Assistant Dean of Admissons Cris Hairston, who also serves as assistant basketball coach. According to Hairston, one of Brown’s high-school friends from Tappahannock County is interested in transferring to Mary Washington.
“His friend had approached me about checking out the basketball facilities at Mary Washington,” Hairston said. “When I told him he could come on Tuesday evening, he said, ‘Okay, I’m bringing Chris Brown.’”
Sophomores Danny Kim and Kevin Abalos were playing one-on-one in the gym when Brown’s security guards asked them to get off the court.
“They said we could play ‘winner,’ ” Abalos said. “After they played two games, we realized we weren’t getting the court back.”
Last month, Brown was charged with felony assault and making criminal threats in connection with an alleged altercation with popular R&B singer Rihanna, his then girlfriend.
“It’s funny, because two hours ago, everyone hated him,” Kim said. “Now all the girls are lining up to get their picture taken with him.”
Sophomore Sammy Luffy was surprised when she heard about Brown’s visit.
“It’s weird that Ben Folds was here [on Monday] and now Chris Brown is here,” she said. “I mean, this is Fredericksburg. Who ever comes to Fredericksburg?”
Several popular gossip websites had stories about Brown’s appearance, including TMZ.com, which posted an exclusive video of Brown’s missing a basket.
Celebrity news source Access Hollywood called the Office of University Relations Wednesday morning to confirm Brown’s visit.
“It was pretty jolting,” said Marty Morrison, assistant director of news and public information at UMW. “It’s my first day on the job, and I definitely wasn’t expecting a call from Access Hollywood.”
The story posted on Perezhilton.com, a widely read gossip site, prompted several comments from readers regarding the impromptu basketball game. One anonymous commenter under the name “mdublove” stated that “UMW is a not a well-known university, and we hope people hearing he was on our campus does not damage our reputation. UMW is a primarily female university and we do not support him or his actions.”
Junior Hassan Abdelhalim passed out ribbons to students watching the game in support of White Ribbon Week, a campaign against violence toward women sponsored by the Virginia Department of Health that coincidentally fell this week.
“I didn’t go up in [Brown’s] face or anything,” said Abdelhalim, who is chair of the White Ribbon campaign. “That’s not what this is about. I wanted to use this opportunity to spread awareness about violence against women.”
When asked, Hairston said he was unsure if Brown’s appearance was good publicity for Mary Washington.
“It was just a chance for Chris Brown to blow off steam,” he said.
Senior Matt Treacy, a former UMW basketball player, was on the court for the first two pick-up games with Brown.
“Before the crowd got here, we were definitely playing more seriously,” Treacy said. “Now that everyone’s watching, we’re pretty much just joking around on the court.”
Treacy was also pleased that Brown’s manager provided him and the other Mary Washington students who played with free bottles of Orange Gatorade, which Brown had his managers pick up after they mistakenly purchased Glacier Freeze.
“He’s a real philanthropist,” Treacy joked.
After three pick-up games, Brown remained on the court for about 15 minutes to take photos and sign autographs for fans.
Sophomore Elizabeth Reed was slightly disappointed with what she saw.
“He was shorter than I thought, and he had chicken legs. He wasn’t very good at basketball either,” she said. “He was still extremely attractive.”
When asked his opinion of Goolrick Gymnasium, Brown responded with a joke.
“It sucks…just kidding, it’s dope,” he said with a laugh.