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Morgan State University wrestling team returns after 25 years

Morgan State University
The Morgan State University wrestling team in 1964.

The university reinstates its program and becomes the only Division I HBCU wrestling team in America.

By Marcel Monmouth and Joshua Harrison-Williams

Morgan State University has revived its wrestling program after a 25-year-long hiatus.

HBCU Wrestling donated $2.7 million to Morgan for the purpose of reinstating its men’s wrestling program. This enabled the university to hire Kenny Monday, who won an Olympic Gold medal in 1988, a silver medal in 1992, was a distinguished member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and long–time supporter of HBCU wrestling, as the head coach of Morgan’s newly reformed wrestling team.

“My mindset is what I’ve always had: I’m a winner, I have big goals, and that’s what I expect,” Monday said.

Monday said he has high expectations for the team and pushes them to be their best by making the team members practice in both comfortable and uncomfortable situations. He believes this will prepare them for the meets to come.

Kenny Monday, Olympic Gold Medalist and new head coach of Morgan’s wrestling team. (Morgan State University Athletics)
Kenny Monday, Olympic Gold Medalist and new head coach of Morgan’s wrestling team. (Morgan State University Athletics)

Jacob Marsh, graduate student majoring in finance and Princeton University transfer, recalled a time he asked Monday what they were doing in practice that day. “He said, ‘you’re running five miles.’ I said I ain’t never ran five miles,” said Marsh. “He said, ‘and you’ve never been a national champion.’ ”

Morgan originally disbanded its wrestling program due to lack of funding in its ‘96-’97 season. HBCUs across the nation cut wrestling programs from the late 80s to early 2000s because the programs were seen as, “expensive and difficult to maintain.” According to hbcuwrestling.org, Delaware State was the last HBCU to have a wrestling program, and dropped it in 2009 due to lack of funding.

The school’s newly reinstated wrestling team is the only HBCU Division I wrestling program and only one of its kind in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

“Being from Baltimore, understanding your city and seeing what’s being done to it – like bringing the wrestling community back and bringing the sport back to the school – it just seems right. Everything feels right.” said Ky-El Ali, freshman physical education major.

Monday chose to accept Morgan’s offer following an initial call from the school. He and several members of his family had attended and graduated from HBCUs, which led him to consider and accept the position.

In Sept. 2022, Monday recruited wrestlers for the ‘23-’24 season, and this fall will be their first season since 1997. The roster consists of 95% freshman and 5% upperclassmen, however Monday says he is confident about the team he has built.

This position is not Monday’s first as a wrestling coach. He was the head freestyle coach at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Training Center, head coach at Oklahoma State University, assistant wrestling coach at Bishop Lynch Highschool, assistant coach for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and, most recently, he was the director of wrestling and head coach at Spire Academy.

Marsh said, “I’ve never been coached by an Olympic Gold medalist before and that’s pretty awesome … I can put all my trust into him and know I’m in good hands.”

Monday has told the team that anyone can be a leader through their commitment to the team by removing distractions. Outside of practice, Monday strives to teach team members about their responsibilities and the limits of what they can control.

“Wrestling is a sport where people are disciplined with their habits,” he said.“You can’t do it by yourself. It takes leadership.”

Monday has worked at predominantly white universities, and working at Morgan has introduced him to a new work environment. He says he wants to build interest in Morgan’s wrestling program in Baltimore, and cultivate their fanbase and talent pool.

“My vision is to build a pipeline in the Maryland area where kids are growing up wrestling,” he said. “I want them to dream about coming to Morgan for wrestling.”

Monday currently works with Beat the Streets, a youth program that encourages youth to participate in sports and gives them goals to which they can aspire.

In wrestling, Monday has proven he can overcome obstacles. He is excited to face upcoming challenges with Morgan’s wrestling team.

Eric Washington Jr., a sophomore cybersecurity major and transfer from Marymount University said, “I want to be [an] NCAA champ this season.”

While Marsh said, “Hopefully I become an All-American. I want to be an All-American.”

Morgan’s wrestling season officially begins Sunday, Nov. 5 when the Bears go to Virginia Tech to compete in the Hokie open in Blacksburg, Va. Before that, the wrestling team is scheduled to hold a Blue and Orange inter squad meet Saturday Oct. 21.