The head of the Minnesota State High School League said the organization is investigating multiple poolside reports of “inappropriate behavior” by one of the state’s most successful swim coaches during last weekend’s state meet, which prompted his removal from the last day of competition.
The High School League (MSHSL) “heard from adults on the pool deck” during the meet Friday about the conduct of coach John Barnes, and the “league and St. Thomas [Academy] are investigating those reports,” said league Executive Director Erich Martens.
Martens declined to be specific about what those adults reported other than to say they allege “inappropriate behavior.”
Barnes, a 15-time state champion, was absent Saturday as his team finished fourth in the Class 1A meet at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota.
Martens, other MSHSL officials and administrators with the Catholic school in Mendota Heights discussed the reports in a telephone call Wednesday.
Martens said the school is fully cooperating with the league’s investigation.
Should any wrongdoing by Barnes be found, Martens said, discipline from the league could range from a warning to suspension.
Asked about a video showing Barnes’ behavior, school spokeswoman Amy Nugent said Wednesday, “That’s my understanding, correct. There is a video of the incident.” However, she contacted the Star Tribune on Thursday and said she has yet to confirm the video exists, and Martens said the league has no information about a video.
Barnes remains the swimming coach at the school, Nugent said Thursday. He also works in alumni outreach.
His only public comment came Monday, when he told the Star Tribune he was unaware of any concerns raised about him as a coach.
One parent spoke up in support of Barnes and lamented that school administration has yet to do so.
“I know John really well,” said Mark Zobel, who attended St. Thomas Academy and whose three sons attended the school and played football under Barnes. “He’s a good man — a tough old-school coach — but a good man. Every kid that’s ever [competed] for him will run through a wall for him as well.”