Charlotte swim coach banned for life after sexual misconduct charge

A longtime Charlotte swim coach has been banned for life from USA Swimming, seven months after he was charged with misdemeanor sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Jamie Thomas, 54, owner and head coach of New South Swimming in Charlotte since 1997, had been on leave from the club since July.

On Monday, the sport’s governing body announced Thomas’ permanent suspension for violation of the USA Swimming code of conduct. The suspension means he is prohibited from coaching or owning one of its club teams.

“The safety of our athletes is our top priority,” USA Swimming spokesperson Karen Linhart said. “It’s very important to have the right people in our sport, acting in the ways of our code of conduct and doing the right thing.”

USA Swimming initially suspended Thomas after his Sept. 18 arrest in Opelika, Ala., on a pending sexual misconduct charge.

The swim code of conduct violations cited by USA Swimming on Monday include improper sexual conduct or advance toward an athlete by a coach or other adult.

There are 101 coaches, volunteers and athletes under permanent USA Swimming bans, most for violating the organization’s code of conduct, which address a range of infractions. Besides Thomas, those banned include one person from North Carolina and three from South Carolina.

Reached early Monday, Thomas said he had not been told of the ban and had no comment.

Thomas’ club of about 125 members has produced national-level swimmers. The team has five coaches and trains at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center uptown. Last year, the team expanded to Carrington Swim Club off Rea Road in south Charlotte, according to the team’s website.

The team continues to train and compete under an acting head coach.

Thomas’ accolades include being named North Carolina Swimming’s Senior Coach of the Year in 2010 and a certificate of excellence award from the American Swimming Coaches Association.

The arrest warrant states the incident happened in January 2013. The Observer is withholding some details to protect the identity of the minor.

In November, USA Swimming’s National Board of Review convened a hearing and permanently revoked Thomas’ membership, according to a statement from USA Swimming. But Thomas appealed the decision, asking for the ban to be overturned, the statement said.

Following the appeals process, a panel of five members of the group’s board of directors upheld the board of review’s decision and found he had committed four code of conduct violations.

‘Gloomy picture’

A 2010 investigation by ABC’s 20/20 brought national attention to sex abuse in swimming and revealed that at least 36 coaches had been banned for life for sexual misconduct over the prior decade.

The report prompted USA Swimming to strengthen efforts to prevent abuse. It launched its Safe Sport program in 2010 aimed at protecting athletes and made public its list of banned coaches and athletes.

An independent review of the program released in January recommended more stringent background checks, improved investigations into allegations and permission for researchers to access internal files on suspected abuse.

Despite progress to protect children, the report concluded, gaps in the sport’s safety net present a “gloomy picture.”

No single database tracks sexual misconduct by coaches across all youth sports. Since 2012, at least nine North Carolina coaches have been charged, according to a review of published reports.