Explainers

John Vandemoer: Who is the sailing coach on Operation Varsity Blues?

Promotional still from Operation Varsity Blues.
John Vandemoer being interviewed in Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal. Pic credit: Netflix

Throughout all of the ugly displayed in Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal, former sailing coach John Vandemoer appeared to be an unknowing pawn in William “Rick” Singer’s quest for riches. 

Operation Varsity Blues tells the story of the 2019 college admission scandal where over 33 parents were charged in a large conspiracy. Unfolded throughout the documentary is the know-all on how these parents, under Singer’s advice, were able to bribe prestigious universities to accept their children into their desired programs.

They managed to accomplish this by donating large sums of money to their school’s athletics department, cheating on standardized testing, and photoshopping images of their children participating in extracurricular activities, like niche sports. 

Who is John Vandemoer? 

John Vandemoer is a former Stanford sailing head coach who appeared in the documentary. He was one of the first people charged and sentenced in the conspiracy. He worked as the head coach for eleven years, and according to his profile on Go Stanford, his teams won 29 of 30 Pacific Coast Collegiate Sailing Conference championships.

Stanford wrote, “Vandemoer is often praised for his commitment, patience, and attention to detail when it comes to supporting his team. However, one characteristic is the most essential: his excitement in getting out on the water and interacting with the sailors.”

While the parents and children of the large criminal conspiracy decided not to appear on-camera for an interview, although they were equally invited, Vandemoer did. Documentary director Chris Smith shared that he came across his contact information “through an associate who worked with Singer.”

Early on in Operation Varsity Blues, Vandemoer reflects on his first encounter with Singer. He expresses that he was interested in meeting with him after Singer reached out under the guise of being a college coach.

He recalled how Singer was able to glide through the locked entrances of the athletics department. Vandemoer said that from that moment, “It definitely told me that he [Singer] had connections with Stanford deeper than myself.” 

During their conversation, Singer brought up Stanford sailing applicant Molly Zhao, and Vandemoer insisted that he couldn’t do much to help and that the money Singer was offering to Stanford “wasn’t enough to have an impact on admissions.” 

Later, the student was admitted to the university and Vandemoer received a $500,000 check from Singer the next day. Vandemoer claims he was confused as he didn’t assist in Zhao’s acceptance, however when he brought it to the proper department, he was congratulated and a higher-up was candid about knowing Singer. 

What happened next? 

Once Singer’s scam was revealed, Vandemoer was one of the first to be arrested and indicted. His naivete played a part in his court case and charges, and he was revealed to have not pocketed any money for himself. All of the checks from Singer were deposited into the sailing program at Stanford, and he insisted that others knew what he was doing. 

The ex-sailing coach pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to commit racketeering” — racketeering is defined as organized crime using a “front,” such as business or school department. 

According to ABC News, District Court Judge Rya Zobel came to the conclusion that “he’s [Vandemoer] probably the least culpable in this case” and did not agree with the suggested sentencing. 

Vandemoer spent one day in prison and then was put on a 6-month long house arrest, a fine of $10,000 and a supervised release of two years. 

For more Netflix news, click here.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal is now streaming on Netflix.

Raven Brunner


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