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Because of soccer, Walker Barnes has traveled to places this year that most 14-year-olds can only dream about. Now, soccer is about to take him on his biggest journey yet.
Barnes, the son of Kelly and Ken Barnes of Wilson, has decided to enroll at Shattuck St. Mary’s School, a 161-year-old Episcopal boarding and day school in Faribault, Minnesota. In addition to specialized learning in science, engineering and music, the school, located about 50 miles south of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, offers elite training in sports such as soccer, hockey, figure skating and golf. Shattucks St. Mary’s soccer teams compete in the prestigious U.S. Soccer Development Academy. He leaves Aug. 19.
For Barnes, who would have gone to Fike High, it’s a dream come true to be able to focus on the sport he loves.
“It’s been crazy so far but I feel good,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I toured it in June and I really liked the environment and the coaches.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m going to be meeting new people and get to play, like, constantly high-level soccer.”
The kicker for Barnes was when SSM coaches came to Overland Park, Kansas, last month to watch him play for the Pitt-Greenville Soccer Association 05 Stars in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championship Series.
“At nationals, they came and watched me play and I just really decided that this is what I wanted to do to progress to that next level,” Barnes said.
Ken Barnes said that while Shattuck St. Mary’s had been recruiting his son since the beginning of the year and while the whole family was impressed with the school, the high cost of tuition was making it seem unlikely that Walker would enroll.
“I was not going to pay college (tuition) for him to go to high school. That was not going to happen,” Ken Barnes said.
But the SSM coaches were undeterred in their pursuit and put together a financial aid package that made it happen.
“The education is going to be good for Walker. Their U17 development academy team was ranked No. 1 in the nation this past year,” Ken Barnes said. “They sold us on the school and what it has to offer and not just soccer-wise.”
For Walker Barnes, attending SSM gives him a more direct path to his ultimate goal.
“I’ll be seen more by scouts from the U.S. Men’s National Team,” he said. “So, hopefully I can get on a youth national team and just go from there and get on a good college team and then hopefully go pro.”
Ken Barnes listed several individuals in Wilson, such as his son’s former WYSA coach Chad Halverson, who have contributed to his development. Ken Barnes said the toughest call he had to make was to Fike High head coach Chris Mizelle, who had coached Walker when he was younger.
“I think the world of Chris and really wanted (Walker) to play high school, so that was kind of a disappointment for me more than anything,” Ken Barnes said.
Barnes admitted to having mixed emotions about his 14-year-old son leaving home and moving halfway across the country but he thinks Shattuck St. Mary’s will be good for Walker.
“For what he wants, this school, I think, is going to get him ready and then it just depends on what he wants to do with it,” he said.
Walker Barnes has emerged as one of the top goalkeepers in the nation in his age group. Barnes, who played at Elm City Middle and for the Wilson Youth Soccer Association ’04 Explosion boys 15-U team, was selected to play for the Olympic Development Program Boys 05 South Region team that toured Northern Ireland and Scotland in April after a training period in Florida in December of 2018.
Then, as a dual-roster player for the PGSA Stars, Barnes helped them win the North Carolina boys 14U championship and go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the Stars claimed the U.S. Youth Soccer Region III (or Southern Regional) title. In the process, Barnes earned the Golden Glove Award as the top keeper in his age group at the regional tournament.
Two of Barnes’ Elm City and WYSA teammates, Mason Ross and Kevin Moran, were part of that PGSA team.
While PGSA finished 0-2-1 at the national championships, Barnes and teammate Ariel Nunez (who dual-rosters with the WYSA ’04 Explosion) were selected among the top 11 players in their age group.
“We didn’t play as well as we could. But it was a really good experience,” Walker Barnes said.
In fact, this whole year has been a fantastic ride for him and his family, who accompanied him every step of the way.
“The season never ended because of all the tournaments,” Ken Barnes said. “But we’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
And the adventure will continue for Walker Barnes.
“It’s just been really crazy this year,” he said. “I could have never imagined moving to Minnesota to play soccer!”