By: Ryan Holmes
Growing up as a black wrestler, I always looked up to Kerry McCoy. Though he definitely does not remember it, I met McCoy, who is now Maryland’s head coach, for the first time when he was an assistant at Lehigh. I was there for camp while I was in high school, and I had the chance to learn from the two-time Olympian and NCAA champion.
This was the first time I got to be around someone in the sport that I loved who was competing at the highest level and was the same ethnicity as me. It was a big deal to me then — and still is now.
According to the NCAA’s Sports Sponsorship, Participation and Demographics Search, 185 of the 2,501 Division I wrestlers in 2015-16 were black (males). See charts below
Also, here are the numbers across Division I, II and III as recognized by the NCAA:
Race in the sport of wrestling isn’t really a topic of discussion as much as it is in other sports. But in the world we live in, race is at the forefront of just about everything. With all of that said, I’m not trying to get into a discussion of race. However, it is Black History Month. And while the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson along with many any others are being celebrated and recognized, it’s only right that we salute some of the influential black history makers of our sport.
Hanson became the first black wrestler to compete at NCAAs in 1949 after winning the CCAA Conference title at 136 pounds for San Diego State University.
The legendary Ohio-born wrestler is a four-time world medalist with three golds and one bronze medal. His first world title at 21 made him the youngest American wrestler to accomplish the feat until Henry Cejudo won Olympic gold at the 2008 Olympics. Kemp also claimed three NCAA titles.
Montgomery became the first black female world medal winner after claiming the silver medal at the 2001 World Championships. She was also the first black woman to earn a spot on the U.S. women’s Olympic team. Montgomery finished her career as a two-time world silver medalist and a seventh-place finisher at the 2004 Olympics.
McCoy is the current coach at Maryland, but as a competitor claimed All-American status three times and won the Hodge Trophy in 1997, becoming the first black wrestler to do so. He was also a two-time Olympian, placing fifth in 2000 and seventh in 2004.
Watch McCoy’s story, Injustice: Kerry McCoy In Tehran:
Monday, a two-time Olympic medalist with a gold medal finish in 1988 and a silver medal finish in 1992, wrestled for Oklahoma State university where he won an NCAA title in 1984 and finished as a three-time All-American.
Douglas was the first black wrestler to compete at the Olympics. His extensive resume includes winning medals and titles at every level of wrestling. During his career he notched a dominant win over Dan Gable at the Olympic Trials in 1968. He was also a history-making coach whose accomplishments included cornering current Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson to a gold medal finish at the 2004 Olympics.
He was the second black wrestler to win a Pennsylvania state title after Bruce Gilmore became the first in 1955. Baker finished his high school career as a two-time state champion and continued his career at Syracuse, where he became the first black wrestler to win an EIWA title and the second to win an NCAA title.
Byers won the first Greco World title for the United States at heavyweight. He is considered to be the most decorated American Greco wrestler, as he is the only one to win three medals at the World Championships. As a competitor, he was an eight-time world team member and two-time Olympian.
Before becoming a bruising fullback in the NFL, Nance was a two-time Pennsylvania state champ before heading to Syracuse like Baker to win an EIWA title at heavyweight in 1963. Nance then went on to become the first black wrestler to win an NCAA title at heavyweight. Nance would finish his career as a three-time EIWA champion and the first black wrestler to win two NCAA titles.
Currently, Burroughs is easily the most influential black wrestler. Burroughs won two NCAA titles while at Nebraska and was the second black wrestler to win the Hodge Trophy in 2011 before going on to become a multiple-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist.
Get a peek at Burroughs’ life in our one-of-a-kind FloFilm, My Name Is Jordan:
Note: I want everyone to know that there were not any wrestlers left off this list for any specific reason. As a former black wrestler myself, I have a tremendous amount of respect for every single black wrestler who came before and after me. For me, Black History Month is more about celebrating every black history maker, and this article was just a portion of the most ground breaking black wrestlers to ever touch the mat. Obviously, there are hundreds of black wrestlers that deserve to be mentioned. Like I said in the comments below, NO ONE was being overlooked at all. Now with that said, I want to say thank you to every single black wrestler who broke down the barriers through their many accomplishments. Without you I would have never been able to do what I am doing now. So thank you!
Also, I encourage you readers to add black wrestlers in the comments who influenced you. Like I said, they ALL deserve recognition. So add them all in the comments to show even more appreciation.