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Wrestling: Dock Kelly

Dock Kelly

  Head Coach
  E-mail: dkelly@andersonuniversity.edu
  Office Phone: (864) 231-5752

Dock Kelly, III, was named to lead the Anderson wrestling program prior to the 2000-01 season and since taking the helm of the program. Kelly has coached 16 national qualifiers and two national champions – most recently guiding JJ Jackson to the 157 lb. title in 2010. Jackson became the second Trojan wrestler to bring home a national championship, as Careef Roberson claimed the title in 2005.

In 2013-14, Zak Hale earned his second trip to the NCAA Championships after finishing fifth at the regional tournament at 133 pounds. Following the season, Kelly signed one of his largest recruiting classes in program history, signing 11 from seven different states and two countries.

In 2012-13, Zak Hale became the 15th national qualifier under Dock Kelly, as he advanced at 133 pounds. Hale posted a 22-7 record, which included wins over Division I opponents Chattanooga, Ohio and Davidson. Kelly also coached Hale in an 8-7 decision over defending National Champion, Trevor Franklin of Upper Iowa.

Kelly has earned the respect of his fellow coaches and administrators in the wrestling world, as evidenced by his selection to participate in the 2010 National Wrestling Coaches Association Leadership Academy, which took place in August in Delray Beach, Florida. Kelly is one of 60 coaches from around the country who were selected after a nomination process among his peers.

In 2011, Kelly saw yet another of his wrestlers contend for national honors, as senior wrestler Trevor Sanford won nine-of-10 bouts during a stretch in January and February in his 174-pound weight class while climbing as high as sixth in the individual Super Region I rankings and earning third place at the NCAA Regionals.

Kelly was born in Pinehurst, N.C., on March 13, 1973 to Dock Kelly, Jr. and Viesther Hallman Kelly, with one hand and one foot that was partially developed. At the age of 23 months, he became a below-the-knee amputee. His right leg stopped growing because of a birth defect doctors couldn't explain. Fearful that it would stunt the rest of his body's growth, they amputated his leg just below the knee - any higher and Kelly wouldn't have been able to push off that leg as a wrestler. The index and middle fingers of his left hand were webbed at birth and had to be surgically separated to give him five functional fingers. His right hand, though, is fingerless from the defect. Growing up, he suffered the sting of people watching him limp, and people staring at his prothesis if he wore shorts. He felt he stood out for the wrong reasons.

While a high school junior in Southern Pines, N.C., Kelly's friends suggested he go out for wrestling. He already lifted weights.

"Nobody can beat you," they said.

His first year competing for Pinecrest High School, 18 opponents did just that.

As a senior, he was 24-3 and was voted outstanding wrestler in the conference.

What started as a dare became a momentous changing point in his life. After graduating from Pinecrest High School in 1991, his wrestling career began to flourish at Chowan College in Murfreesboro, N.C. After competing for Coach Dave Maas, Kelly left Chowan and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was part of UNCG’s first wrestling squad, competing for the Spartans from 1993-96

"I'm so glad I found wrestling," Kelly said. "Wrestling was the missing piece in my personal jigsaw puzzle." Wrestling gave him the confidence to ignore the way people reacted to his disabilities and the chance to compete in athletics.

Transferring to the UNC Greensboro, he was not thought to be much of an asset, and Coach Denny Moore permitted him to walk on to the team without expecting much in the way of success. Once again, Kelly rose to the challenge and surpassed everyone’s expectations..

There was one particular practice UNC Greensboro practice that stands out in Kelly’s mind. He vividly remembers that practice during his junior year. Kelly was running sprints with the rest of the wrestling team when the prosthesis he wore suddenly flew off and slid across the room. Cheers and encouragement for one another suddenly turned to complete silence. Kelly finished the sprint on his hands and knees, but the silence in the usually chaotic wrestling auxillary gym was deafening. Bur then, the Spartans’ head coach spoke up.

“It was dead quiet for about five seconds,” Kelly recalls. “But then Moore goes berserk. He yells to me ‘Get up and put your leg back on. Do you think I am going to feel sorry for you? Do you think someone you wrestle at nationals is going to feel sorry for you? No!’”

Kelly was so upset at Moore at that moment that he wanted to “knock him out,” he said. But it was that moment, Kelly said, that he realized there were no free passes in life, and that indeed, nobody was going to feel sorry for him because of his physical limitations. Now the AU head coach knows Moore was only trying to make Kelly a better man. He succeeded.

“A lot of people didn’t get along with Denny because he was that way,” said Kelly. “But he pushed my buttons and that incident really flipped on a switch that helped both my wrestling career and my personal life. He knew how to light a fire, and he certainly lit mine.”

That fire burned deep for Kelly. So deep that Kelly worked harder than he ever did, for himself and to prove to people that he could succeed when others thought he would fail. That desire helped Kelly qualify for the 1997 NCAA tournament, his senior year. That same year Kelly also received the Medal of Courage and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and in 2000 he was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Champions.

“I’m living proof that you can’t feel sorry for yourself,” said Kelly. “My brothers and sisters didn’t feel sorry for me, Coach Moore didn’t feel sorry for me and in life people don’t feel sorry for you.”

In 1996, he qualified for the NCAA Wrestling Championships at 126 lbs., making the tournament as an at-large selection. He logged a 22-7 mark that season. In his three seasons at UNCG, he compiled a career mark of 50-34, making him one of 10 wrestlers to record 50 or more wins in his career. For his achievements, Kelly finished third at the CAA Championships as a junior and a senior.

He continued to gain national recognition while at UNC-Greensboro as a NCAA Division I Qualifier ('96), National Wrestling Hall of Fame Inductee ('97), and with an article in JET Magazine ('96).

Upon graduating from UNC-Greensboro with degrees in Geography ('96) and Communications ('97), and he continued to work with the wrestling team as an assistant coach ('96-00). He has also been inducted into the Pinecrest High School Sports Hall of Fame ('00), NCAA Hall of Champions (2000), UNC-Greensboro Sports Hall of Fame ('06), and the Chowan University Sports Hall of Fame ('08).

"Careef's national championship was an exclamation point that our system at Anderson works," Kelly said. "Hard work does pay off. Careef executed our plan to perfection."

An ordained minister and pastor, Kelly also serves as a motivational speaker. Kelly continues to pass on those words of wisdom, those encouraging thoughts and other inspirational messages as a wrestling coach, an ordained minister, and a motivational speaker. He is a pastor of Kingdom Vision Worship Center, located in Anderson.

“It gets busy, but it’s a weekly process that if I am doing the things I am supposed to be doing, like reading The Bible and preparing for my sermons, it does not become a problem with all the other things that I have going on,” Kelly said. “Time management is very important.”

Kelly also speaks to elementary, junior and high school students, Fellowship of Christian Athletes organizations, and at various businesses throughout the southeastern United States. His speeches range from two minutes to an hour or longer, depending on audience and need.

Kelly said he coaches wrestling like he prepares for his sermons and motivational speeches.

“One thing I stress is to come to practice with a plan, not just to practice,” said Kelly. “People perish because of a lack of vision, and because they don’t set goals or develop a plan that can get them through life.”

Kelly uses the same inspirational and motivational tactics that he uses in his sermons and lectures with the wrestling team to help inspire and get through the daily grind. He doesn’t curse – a value he stands by proudly – and he is up front and honest with wrestlers during the recruiting process and throughout their careers.

“I’m big on honesty and my word is my word,” said Kelly. “If I tell a person we only have X amount of dollars to give you for a scholarship, that is the honest truth. I don’t hide anything. But whenever I recruit I let freshman know I don’t expect you to come in and think you will have it easy because you are a freshman. Like my good friend (Oklahoma State wrestling coach) John Smith, I expect our freshmen to come in and set their goals on winning and reaching the national tournament. I don’t expect them to come in and be satisfied with not performing well because they are freshmen, that is not an excuse.”

As interesting as Kelly’s journey has been, the even more intriguing aspect of all of this is the fact that he originally wanted to become a meteorologist and work as a television weather man.

“I guess the Lord had a different calling for me,” said Kelly.

That, and with a little motivation from his former high school and college coaches, these things have helped Kelly overcome any limitations in his life. But then again, according to Kelly those aren’t limitations.

“There is no reason to feel sorry for yourself for what you don’t have,” said Kelly. “Be proud of what you do have and make the most of what you are given. That’s my philosophy.”

He lives in Anderson with his wife Shakhan Kelly, and sons Caleb Noel Kelly and Patrick Maurice.