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Chris Murphy, Published March 10 2014

Groin kick spurred suspension of Frazee coach, teacher

FARGO – A kick to the groin of a 13-year-old last month, along with a verbal lashing, prompted school officials to suspend Frazee-Vergas Public Schools wrestling coach and physical education teacher John Barlund.

All because of a little badminton birdie.

According to investigation documents obtained by The Forum, Barlund kicked the 13-year-old in the groin after the student struck Barlund in the face with a badminton birdie.

The investigation resulted in Barlund receiving a five-day unpaid suspension from teaching and a suspension from coaching the rest of the season, which included the Minnesota Class 1A, Section 8 individual section tournament and the state tournament.

When asked if Barlund would return as coach of the wrestling team next season, Frazee-Vergas Superintendent Terry Karger said Monday “all winter programs will be evaluated later this month.”

According to the documents, on Feb. 4, at the end of the sixth-hour gym class, a student hit a badminton birdie at Barlund, which struck him in the face near his eye. Witnesses testified that Barlund kicked the student in the groin area and swore.

Most students heard Barlund say, “What the hell was that for?” Other witnesses heard him use more vulgar expletives, the district’s investigation found.

One witness testified that Barlund said, “If it was my kid I would have pulled his pants down and beat him until he was red or black and blue.” Barlund denied making that statement. He admitted he may have used the word “hell” but did not use an “f-bomb.”

Barlund provided a detail-oriented description of the entire incident until he was hit with the birdie, at which point, he was vague and unable to remember details regarding the exact words and actions, according to the district documents.

He denied kicking the student, but testified that he attempted to defend himself with his hands up and feet out because of being in shock and feeling fear of being hit with another birdie or racket.

The investigation documents stated Barlund’s testimony was not credible because it was not believable that he was afraid of the student, “given the immense size and strength difference between them.”

The investigation also concluded Barlund’s testimony wasn’t credible because five students contradicted him. In demonstrating his reaction to being hit, he kicked up his leg, seeming to imply that the students may have seen him accidentally kick the student.

One witness testified that “Students are supposed to hand the birdie to Barlund. (The student who was allegedly kicked) tossed the birdie to Barlund. (The student) was a little out of line, especially because Barlund specifically told him not to throw it. Either way, what Barlund did was not OK because it is not right for a teacher to kick a student or swear at him.”

David Conzemius, a physical education teacher at Frazee-Vergas High School, testified that he did not know what happened because he was in the other gym, but Barlund came to him right after the incident. He testified that Barlund told him the student had hit a birdie from about 5 feet to 10 feet away, which struck Barlund right by his eye.

Conzemius testified he was in the office while Barlund disciplined the student, stating Barlund told the student he was disappointed in his actions and was going to “write him up” for it. Conzemius stated the student didn’t say anything while they were in the office, and he didn’t look very remorseful.

When the investigator asked Barlund “If kids say you kicked (the student) in the crotch and swore at him, how do you respond to that?” Barlund responded by asking the investigator if he had ever been kicked in the groin and indicated that it hurts a great deal.

“If this kid was kicked in the crotch, in my mind, he was standing straight up across from me, in my mind, he was standing perfectly upright and he was able to run into the locker room and exit the locker room, and there is no way you would be standing upright.”

This was after Barlund stated he had not kicked the student at all. Barlund then said, “I’m not saying I kicked, I fell back, and I was flailing.”

When asked whether he thought he had done anything inappropriate, Barlund replied by saying possibly his language and the way he raised his voice when he talked to the student, but he did not think he had done anything inappropriate otherwise.

In the documents, Barlund said, “Well, I feel absolutely terrible about where it’s at right now, and I’m concerned for my family and children.”

He also claimed another student said the seventh-grade boys got together and said, “Let’s get together and say you kicked me in the groin.”

Barlund was put on paid administrative leave from both teaching and coaching on Feb. 5. On Feb. 21, Karger served Barlund with a five-day unpaid suspension from teaching and a suspension from coaching the remainder of the wrestling season.

When contacted by email Monday for comment, Barlund wrote, “I am extremely thankful to all the people who have supported my family and me during this time. I am happy to be back to work and look forward to a great spring.

“As Walter Cronkite always said: ‘In seeking the truth, you have to get both sides of the story.’ ”

He began his Frazee-Vergas career as a math and physical education teacher in 2005 and has been there ever since. He also took over the helm of the wrestling program in 2005 and has led the Hornets to eight trips to state – including this season – leading to four runner-up finishes and one state championship in 2011.

Ranked as the No. 2 seed, the Hornets finished fourth at the Class 1A state tournament as a team, losing in the third-place dual by one point to Jackson County Central.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548