Luke Barnwell ’13 has been honored with the national 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Boys’ High School Coach of the Year award.
Barnwell has been coaching at Sunrise Christian Academy (SCA) in Bel Air, Kansas, since his graduation from Newman University.
The award was first presented in 2008 and is voted on by the Naismith Awards national high school voting academy — a select group of basketball journalists from across the country.
The selection for the 2021 honor was based on outstanding coaching performances during the 2020-21 high school basketball season.
Rich Hope, chief marketing officer for Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems Inc., said Barnwell has shown “tremendous leadership and a commitment to excellence.”
Barnwell said Newman wasn’t his first choice of college, but after learning about then head men’s basketball coach Mark Potter, he transferred from Emporia State University to Newman to finish his collegiate athletic career while majoring in sports communication.
“Coach (Potter) held us to a high standard ethically and morally and lived that example. In my role as coach, I would like to say I pursue the same; he lived it and taught it.
“I ended up tutoring a lot of our SCA guys, helping them with papers and presentations, all the things I had to do for sports communication that came in handy.”
Carlos Paez, one of Luke’s former players at SCA from 2016-19 said, “He was amazing. He cared so much, always took care of his players. He is fiery but with a purpose and he always let you know why. It’s special because that’s how we knew he truly cared about us.”
Paez is currently studying at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee and majoring in sports broadcasting. He plans to graduate in 2023.
He said Barnwell keeps in contact with a lot of his former players, and they reach out to him as well any time they have questions, whether related to academics or life. This importance of building and maintaining relationships is important to Barnwell, Paez said.
“What I took away from Coach Barnwell is that we can always do better and relationships matter; no one makes it to the top by themselves. He taught us to be gentle with people and reminded us that what you give is what you get.
“I think his work ethic is impeccable; he’s always trying to achieve more, get better at everything he does. He’s one of my best friends now. I look up to him and how well he handles himself.”
Barnwell said he learned about the honor through his athletic director (AD), but it was revealed as a surprise. When Barnwell showed up for a morning meeting, he walked into a room with the AD and school superintended.
“They told me I won. I knew I was one of five finalists, but I was still very shocked and humbled when I found out I had won,” said Barnwell.
Growing up in a small town, Barnwell didn’t really like to be the center of attention and admits he still has trouble accepting recognition. However, he is grateful and honored to be recognized and hopes it will be an inspiration to his players, both former and current.
“To be given an award that honors Dr. Naismith, who invented the game of basketball in order to disciple young men — it was an emotional moment.
“I’m so lucky to be able to do the same thing with these young men at Sunrise. It’s really something to instill character in players, who they become is so much more important than what they do. I’m just thankful to be a vessel. God uses the most unlikely characters to write stories, and I get to be the vessel for what He wants us to be and do.”