By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Most high school parents typically have a problem getting their kid to listen to them, and when he’s at home Stillwater High School freshman Kennedy Monday is undoubtedly no exception. But as soon as he steps on the wrestling mat, it becomes almost impossible to block out his father’s voice.
That’s what happens when your dad is three-time Olympian and 1988 gold medal winner Kenny Monday.
“I always hear him and I always listen to him,” Kennedy Monday said. “It’s amazing. It really is a blessing to have a dad that’s there and wants to help me succeed.”
But having a famous father comes with a price. Don’t believe it? Just ask Stillwater coach Doug Chesbro and sophomore Joe Smith.
Both have fathers who are coaching legends down the street at Oklahoma State, with Smith’s dad John Smith as the Oklahoma State coach.
“I know for a fact there is (added pressure),” Chesbro said. “I’ve been in that same situation myself and I know there is. Part of my job is not only to pick a kid up and get him going, but to keep him grounded too. I spend a lot of time trying to touch base with Kennedy, staying involved with him and get him to have fun. It’s important that he doesn’t constantly think about having to live up to anything. He has an opportunity to be a kid and go out there and have fun.
“There’s no place he goes in the state that he doesn’t step on the mat and somebody will point a finger at him and say, ‘That’s Kenny Monday’s son. Take a look at him and let’s watch him.’ That’s not always the most fun thing in the world. Some kids thrive on that kind of attention and some kids kind of clam up and that’s a hindrance to them. So far, it hasn’t been too much of a detriment to Kennedy, but I know after a long season it kind of wears on you just a little bit.”
This isn’t Monday’s first rodeo, though. Ever since he started wrestling as a young boy, he knew people were going to hold him to a higher standard because of his father’s legacy.
“I don’t really feel the pressure any more,” Monday said. “I just go out there and wrestle my hardest. I mean, yeah, my dad is usually in the stands but there’s only so much he can do from up there. It’s up to me to go out there and wrestle as hard as I can.”
Now that he’s joined the high school ranks, that pressure may amplify a little bit — especially as Stillwater inches closer and closer to the state tournament. So far this season, Monday has been nearly flawless in his approach but Chesbro said feeling that pressure might be good for the up-and-coming Pioneer 106-pound star.
“There’s nothing wrong with knowing that you have something to live up to,” Chesbro said. “As a matter of fact, it takes a little bit of pressure to make a diamond. He will either respond to that pressure or he’ll have things put on instead of having them put on someone else.”
It also doesn’t hurt that one of Monday’s training partners is Joe Smith — who went through this same ordeal last year en route to a state championship.
“I’ve actually learned quite a bit from Joe,” Monday said. “You can’t get much better training from a guy that won state last year. Our dads are friends, so we naturally have a real good bond and just click together. We’re both pretty good friends, so it helps having him there with me.”
“It seems like Joe spends at least a little bit of time each and every day grabbing Kennedy and if nothing else just rolling around on the mat with him,” Chesbro said. “… Being just a year older, he’s been through it once. If he can help guide Kennedy just a little bit and help get him closer to that ultimate goal of winning a state championship, that’s awesome and I hope Joe continues that.”
With an Olympic champion father, the son of a legendary coach instructing him and a friend who knows exactly what he’s going through, Monday may have more advice than he can handle.
But when he steps in the circle under the spotlight and he’s one-on-one with an opponent, none of that matters.
“The biggest thing is that Kennedy has to be his own wrestler,” Chesbro said. “We all can give him all the advice he wants to hear, but eventually what it all boils down to is what he chooses to do while he’s wrestling. It’s all up to him. I know the advice Kenny gives in the stands would probably be about the same thing I’d be telling him, but Kennedy is the only one whose out there actually wrestling.”