Rick Bonnell, our late colleague at The Charlotte Observer, loved to mentor young men. And so it’s only fitting that the Charlotte Hornets — the team he covered so long and so well for our organization since the franchise was born in 1988 — established an annual scholarship in his name, to be awarded to a current journalism student at a North Carolina college.
I’m pleased to announce on behalf of the Hornets and The Observer that Noah Monroe, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Concord who attends UNC, has earned the first Rick Bonnell Memorial Scholarship. Monroe will be recognized Friday night at the Hornets’ home game against Toronto.
Monroe, a sportswriter at the UNC campus newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, will receive a one-time scholarship of $10,000 to help with his college expenses. The cash came from the many donors who gave money in Bonnell’s name to the Charlotte Hornets Foundation.
You could say that Monroe had quite a journey to get to this point, and you could say that he was happy when the scholarship committee told him about his award, and in both cases that would be an understatement.
In 2016, Monroe was diagnosed with cancer three days before his 14th birthday. What followed was 14 months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Thankfully, he has been cancer-free for more than four years now. At The Daily Tar Heel, he has written about basketball, football, soccer and gymnastics. He also drove 650 miles roundtrip to Towson, Md., so he could cover the national women’s lacrosse championship in person.
In other words, he hustles, just like Bonnell always did.
And when Monroe found out he had won the Bonnell scholarship?
“It was a Zoom call, and some members of the committee called me and told me I was a finalist,” Monroe said. “They asked me a few questions about journalism and the scholarship, and then suddenly they said I got it. Then I broke down and hurt.”
The scholarship committee included members of the Charlotte Hornets Foundation, Charlotte Observer senior sports editor Matt Stephens and Bonnell’s two children, Jack and Claire. There were many worthy applicants, but Monroe’s application stood out for his achievements, honesty and sense of humor.
Because of the chemotherapy used to treat his cancer — rhabdomyosarcoma, a pediatric cancer of the skeletal muscles — Monroe lost his hair and it has mostly not grown back.
Monroe wrote in his application: “As a result of my cancer, Mr. Bonnell and I have something else in common, the same hairstyle — bald on the top with a little on the side.”
Bonnell died in Charlotte in June 2021, of natural causes. He was 63 years old. His death left a deep hole in our newsroom, which had already suffered another wrenching loss only eight days before when award-winning photographer David T. Foster III had also passed away from natural causes.
Bonnell was a generous colleague and a great friend to me and many others. He was a foodie, a beach-lover, a proud Syracuse graduate, a hoops junkie and the one reporter in the Charlotte media market who Hornets owner Michael Jordan was most likely to call back.
“I’m very sad to learn about Rick’s passing,” Jordan said when Bonnell died. “Rick was a staple at Hornets games, dating back to my playing days at the old Charlotte Coliseum.”
Bonnell was such a longtime fixture in the Charlotte media market that Noah Monroe’s father, David Monroe, once shadowed him for an assignment. David Monroe was a student at East Mecklenburg High in 1990 when he participated in a program designed to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg High school students learning about potential future careers. The day he shadowed Bonnell wasn’t one of the most noteworthy of Bonnell’s career — he wrote a daily story and interviewed then-Hornets head coach Gene Littles — but it left an impression on Monroe.
“It was a fantastic day,” David Monroe said. “I saw how he put his thoughts into words, and I got to see how a professional conducted an interview with an NBA head coach. It really left an impression on a young, aspiring journalist.”
Monroe did go on to pursue a career in sports journalism. After college, he went to work for the Carolina Panthers, helping to shepherd the franchise’s website for many years. He currently serves as the Panthers’ team historian.
Now Bonnell, through the scholarship in his name, will influence Noah Monroe, David’s son.
“This was a tremendously hard decision,” said Jack Bonnell, Rick’s son and part of the scholarship committee. “We appreciate so much the Hornets and their wonderful foundation for leading the charge on this and all of the people who donated money in my Dad’s name — and there were so many of them — to make it possible. My Dad was passionate about trying to help young reporters, and Noah is such a deserving recipient of this first scholarship.”
Noah Monroe will work as an intern for the Winston-Salem Dash minor-league baseball team this summer. He has a 3.7 grade-point average at UNC. He will mark his five-year cancer-free anniversary in June. By all accounts, his future is bright.
Rick Bonnell would be proud if he knew that he was also making Noah Monroe’s future a little brighter.
In fact, somewhere, I’m sure he does.