St. Thomas Academy’s nationally honored high school swimming coach has been suspended over alleged improper behavior during the 2019 state meet that prompted his removal from the competition.
The Minnesota State High School League said Friday that it has suspended 15-time state champion coach John Barnes for the 2020 postseason and has accepted the school’s decision to suspend him for the first three meets of the upcoming season.
The all-boys Catholic school in Mendota Heights conducted an internal investigation into the allegations and “provided a corrective action plan” to the high school league, league Executive Director Erich Martens said.
Along with the suspensions, Barnes must participate in professional development training, work with a mentor regarding coaching philosophy and methodologies, and be subjected to ongoing monitoring.
The league’s executive committee reviewed the case during its regularly scheduled June 3 meeting and imposed the postseason suspension and accepted the school’s sanctions against Barnes.
Martens said the sanctions address Barnes’ “behaviors toward and treatment of his student-athletes” during final day of the 2019 Class 1A state meet in March at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center, where the Cadets finished fourth. Barnes was absent without explanation from the meet’s second day.
Barnes has declined to return messages left by the Star Tribune for reaction to the punishment. As for St. Thomas, school spokeswoman Deborah Edwards did not mention the sanctions and only said last week that Barnes remains as coach.
About two weeks after Barnes was sanctioned, the school announced the immediate resignation of its headmaster, Matthew Mohs, explaining nothing more than he was moving on to the “next phase of his career.” Mohs has so far declined to return messages seeking further information about his sudden departure and whether Barnes’ suspension is connected.
Mark Zobel, who attended St. Thomas and whose three sons attended the school and played football under Barnes, said he knows the coach well and is frustrated with how the school is handling the situation.
“A good PR strategy is not to remain silent and let the public speculate the worst about something that wasn’t remotely as bad as many people think,” said Zobel. “That seems like a bad strategy and one that certainly isn’t fair to John Barnes, who probably isn’t able to speak for himself.”
In June 2018, Barnes was named Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association from among seven finalists.
He has coached 14 state title teams at St. Thomas and one at Minnetonka. Barnes’ career dual meet record through the 2017-18 season stood at 144-3-1.\
He has coached eight qualifiers for Olympic trials, 15 national qualifiers, 36 junior national qualifiers, 26 high school All-Americas and two World University Games gold medalists.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482