Kenny Monday and Morgan State University are looking to be the leaders of an HBCU wrestling renaissance when the Bears make their return to the mat for the first time since the 1996-1997 season.
Kenny Monday is an amateur wrestling legend and an Olympic gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics. This year he will continue to add to his legacy as he prepares Morgan State for their first wrestling season in 26 years.
Monday spoke with HBCU Gameday to talk about his thoughts on being hired to reestablish the wrestling program at Morgan State.
“It’s significant,” Monday said when asked how it feels to restart the only HBCU wrestling program in the country at Morgan State. “I remember in 1996. I knew the coach, Coach Phillips. It was heartbreaking to have another wrestling program dropped,”
Monday is referring to legendary Morgan State University wrestling coach James Phillips. Phillips coached at Morgan State for 20 years and won 13 MEAC titles, 12 MEAC Coach of the Year awards, produced four national champions and 75 All-American wrestlers. Phillips’ coaching reign came to an end when he resigned in 1996. Morgan State dropped the wrestling program due to a lack of funding.
Monday understands that he is reviving a program that has a rich history.
“It’s an amazing tribute to the program that was here back in the nineties and Coach Phil was a great coach. We always talked. Whenever I would see him, he would come up and we joke, we laugh, and he would tell me that I needed to be at Morgan State. Well, I’m here now. We’re here bringing the program back, I’m excited and we’re ready to get to work,”
Bringing back HBCU wrestling has been on Monday’s radar for a long time. He took the first steps with his partners at HBCU Wrestling, an organization that is working to establish and restore wrestling programs at HBCUs.
“We were looking for a way to help the community and see what we could do to advance the sport. We all knew that there’s no programs at HBCUs, so we wanted to give the kids an opportunity to come to HBCUs and wrestle. Then doing the search and that whole thing, they came to me and asked me to take over the position. When I thought about it, at first I was a little apprehensive about it just because I’m kind of at the end of my career and was kind of ready to sit back and relax and just be a fan. Once I looked into it and did a deep dive into the opportunity, I thought it would probably be more of an impact if someone like myself would take over the position and then lead the program. Once I really looked at it and thought about it, it’s bigger than me. I wanted to make sure that I got this program off to a good start,”
Monday could not have been a more perfect candidate for this position. He has a legendary wrestling career that started back in his youth in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He would grow to become successful at the sport and win several awards to cement his name among one of the best to ever touch the mat.
“Undefeated in high school, 140-0, and won four-time state champ at Booker T. Washington, and then from there, I went to Oklahoma State and then of course, three-time All-American, NCAA champion in 1984. Then from that point, I went to the Olympics in ‘88 (gold), ‘92 (silver) and ‘96,”
Pairing Monday’s and Morgan State’s successful legacies is a match that can build a dynasty. Both have long histories of success that set the standards high for the program. Monday wants to win, but he understands that a healthy culture has to be established first in order to win.
“I’ve been a winner from day one and my expectations is nothing less than that. My expectation is to build a program where kids are competing at a level that they haven’t seen before coming from an HBCU and around the country. I’ve been around. Either I’ve been coached by some of the best in the world; wrestled against some of the best in the world; competed with some of the best in the world; teams with some of the best in the world, so my history is pretty extensive when it comes to putting results on the mat. It’s going to take a while to build it. I’m realistic about where our program will be. I mean, of course, we got a building program from scratch. We got 95 percent freshmen. I got four or five upper-class kids that transferred in. We got a young team, so it’s gonna take a lot of building, a lot of work to be able to compete at the level that I’m accustomed to competing at. My expectation is to build a program that is based on character, based on excellence, and based on winning,”
Kenny Monday’s expectations are high and the road will be long to build the program that he envisions, but he is proud of the team as they are creating the culture that they are striving to establish.
“I got a good group of kids. I love our team. I love the guys we brought in. We got five or six state champions that are doing well in high school and it’s just about building that culture, building that team,” Monday explains. “I tell the kids, we’re a team on paper right now. Just because the kids are on contract and they sign, but you become a team in your daily work and in your daily accountability and your daily habits. That’s how you become a real team and that’s the message that I go to the kids that we’re a team on paper right now. Every day we become a team on the mat and in life,”
Kenny Monday and Morgan State University will continue to build their culture and continue a great legacy in wrestling. They have the opportunity to shake up the wrestling world and represent HBCUs. Monday made his message clear to all other wrestling programs.
“We’re coming to win and Morgan State will be on the map,”
Morgan State University will touch the mat against an opponent for the first time in 26 years when they travel to Virginia Tech on November 5.
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