From Tulsa to Baltimore: Kenny Monday revitalizes Morgan State wrestling program
With the hiring of Monday, Morgan State became the only historically Black university to offer wrestling at the Division 1 level, the highest level of collegiate sports.
Alex Ederson, Contributing Writer for The MSU Spokesman
Black wrestlers and coaches are a minority in the wrestling community.
From 2016 to 2020, an average of 41 wrestlers out 330 total entries to the NCAA Division 1Tournament were Black. This is an average of 12.4 percent per year.
Black coaches make up 9.5 percent of all coaches in division one wrestling, assistant coaches included. There are currently five Black head coaches in wrestling and three of them wrestled for Oklahoma State: Chris Pendleton, Glen Lanham, and Kenny Monday, the new head wrestling coach at Morgan State University.
Monday, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, understands how intertwined racism is in society. Tulsa is where the attack on Black Wall Street took place in 1921.
This is one of the most extreme examples of a racially motivated attack in the United States and that shadow was felt as Monday grew up.
“In the 60s in the 70s, it was pretty segregated … it was interesting. I got bused in the seventh grade, they did forced busing, integration,” Monday said. “So, my seventh and eighth grade year… it was like four or five busloads of Black kids going to this all-white school. You know, it was tough. It was contentious at first.”
Monday credits getting involved with wrestling at the age of five for helping break down some of the racial barriers that he faced growing up in Tulsa.
“Wrestling is kind of a predominantly white sport. I was going to a lot of tournaments … I was around a lot of white kids from wrestling … it was an easier adjustment for me just because I’d had that experience … it was sport that really broke down those differences, because then you were forced to play together and see each other’s differences as you’re trying to pull together as a team.”
Monday went 140-0-1 throughout high school which led to him receiving a scholarship to wrestle for perennial wrestling powerhouse, Oklahoma State University. While at Oklahoma State, he was a three-time All American, placed second at the NCAA Division 1 Tournament his sophomore and junior years before winning it outright his senior year in 1984.
Monday finished his collegiate career with a record of 121-12-2. After college, he went on to become an inspiration within the wrestling community.
Pendleton, head coach of Oregon State wrestling and four-time National champion at Oklahoma State said, “Kenny has been inspiring generations of wrestlers across the world, especially African Americans seeing the first Black Olympic champion.”
In 1988, Monday became the first Black wrestler to win Olympic gold at the Seoul Olympic Games. He won silver at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and placed sixth at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Prior to accepting the head coaching job at Morgan, Monday was the Director and Head Coach of wrestling at SPIRE Institute in Ohio. SPIRE is an international, high school and post graduate sports performance training and education academy.
“I … was doing some other things and didn’t know if I wanted to coach on the college level.”
Monday has coached at the college level before but credits the HBCU Wrestling Initiative and billionaire philanthropist Mike Novogratz with getting him involved at Morgan.
“When (Mike) got behind this program, the HBCU initiative and he talked to me about it, originally, I just wasn’t there yet,” Monday said.
The hiring of Monday for Dena Freeman-Patton, vice president and director of athletics, is just one step in her plan “enhance the student-athlete experience with championships.”
“When I had the opportunity to meet with Coach Kenny Monday, I immediately realized he’s a champion. He’s a winner,” Freeman-Patton said. “He develops men… his primary focus is to come here and to provide an opportunity for our young people to participate in the sport of wrestling and to grow and develop as people.”
Freeman-Patton views the hiring of Monday as benefit for the future of division one wrestling at HBCUs. The hiring of big-name coaches at HBCUs had traditionally been reserved for football. Deion Sanders, head coach for Jackson State, and Hue Jackson, head coach for Grambling State, are the most recent examples that come to mind.
“We’re going to be in a great position moving forward. It’s also bringing us some national attention with ESPN and some other avenues, just having (Monday’s) name,” said Freeman-Patton. “He will also have a similar effect that Deion has on HBCU football …and he will not only affect us, but he’ll affect future wrestling programs that may emerge and at HBCUs.”
Lanham, head wrestling coach at Duke University and two-time national champion at Tennessee and Oklahoma State, agrees that the hiring of Monday is big for the HBCU wrestling community, but he believes Monday needs time to achieve the results he seeks as well as support from administration.
“They (Morgan) were a very successful program and … you have somebody like Kenny, you know they went all in, they swung for the fences and hit a home run,” Lanham said. “That’s what’s important, but I also say too is the administration has to continue to have the hunger for success … It’s okay to hire somebody. Now you got to give them the tools to win, and I think that if they’re on the same page with that, then I think that that’s that that’s going to be important.”
Monday attributes that to the “lineage of Oklahoma State.” Oklahoma State, in their history has 34 team national championships, 143 individual NCAA championships, and 475 All-Americans. Over time Monday would like to be able to have wrestlers from the top D1 schools train at Morgan through the set up of a Regional Training Center (RTC.)
The purpose of the RTC is to allow youth athletes and Olympic hopefuls access to high level coaches, top training partners and world class facilities in a safe environment. It also helps colleges further their programs as they build the connection with Team USA Wrestling.
Monday said, “It sets a vision for your student athletes, the guys that did want to be an Olympic world champion, they’ll see that person that’s here training (at the RTC), and then they’ll motivate them to inspire them to continue to train.”
Commitment to excellence is something that Monday prides himself on, and it will be how he runs his program. He wants to instill a competitive nature in his student athletes while setting them up for future success.
“I’m selling the dream and … whatever level a young student athletes wanted to accomplish, then I want to create that environment for him,” Monday said. “If they want … to come here and just go do the college thing, go to NCAA’s and be a national champion, I want to create that environment for them, that opportunity for them. If they want to continue to go on to try to make an Olympic team, I want to create that environment for them as well, because I know what it takes.”
Lanham was able to witness Monday’s commitment firsthand when they both attended Oklahoma State. This in turn pushed Lanham even further in his wrestling career.
“I didn’t understand the level of commitment and the level of commitment to excellence … you start to compete around people who all they know is excellence. Kenny was one of those guys … I learned how to be a competitor from him.”
To create the winning environment that Monday is used to, he must first recruit wrestlers that are willing to go come to Morgan and compete on and off the mat. He was surprised at the attention from people of all races when it was announced he would be the head wrestling coach.
“I think when people see that I’m here, you’d be amazed at the attention I’ve received and just the outreach that I’ve received from kids, parents, even white kids … I’ve got kids from all races reach(ing) out and say(ing) ‘I want to be part of Morgan State.”
Monday plans to use his platform to engage with the community. He is already involved with Beat The Streets Baltimore, a non-profit designed to engage kids in inner-city environments through wrestling.
Monday, Lanham, and Pendleton all agree that more needs to be done to engage Black youth in getting them more involved in wrestling. Monday feels there also needs to be more “leadership…that inspires the next generation.”
Meanwhile, Freeman-Patton and Monday are figuring out what the schedule will look like for next year and if the team will be in a conference or independent.
“We’re actually in the process of having those conversations. I have a meeting with Coach Monday coming up and we’re going to start working on those,” Freeman-Patton said. “We do have some interest from some conferences and so we’re going to start having those conversations and exploring our options.”
Monday is hard at work as he prepares for the 2022-23 season. He is still in the process of finalizing his coaching staff, first recruiting class, and eventually the funds required to set up an RTC. He is eager and more than willing to lead the Morgan wrestling team to success after a 25-year hiatus.
“It’s been it’s been amazing. It’s been amazing and you know…Dr. Wilson has been really good. We had a great interview, great talk with him a couple of different times and he’s really showing his support and how bad he wants to be successful …You know, the AD (Freeman-Patton) has been really supportive.. everybody wants to win which I love. They want to win. They want to build a program that lasts, that’s sustainable,” Monday said.