INDIANAPOLIS — I consider myself in decent shape, but at 40-plus, I’d get annihilated by any of the state’s top high school wrestlers weighing in a similar range (and probably much lighter).
But, if Chad Red asked me to grab some headgear and hit the mat, I’d give it my best shot.
Red, the New Palestine head wrestling coach, has that something special you look for in a leader of young men. He’s inspiring. Energetic. Uplifting. And that’s a run-through-a-brick-wall vibe I get from speaking with him for a just few minutes after wrestling meets.
To the student-athletes Red comes in contact with each day, the influence is life-altering.
“Coach Red is like a second father to me,” said New Palestine junior Cameron Diep, who won a regional title Saturday. “He takes me around the country to go to wrestling tournaments. He helps me become a better person. I love him.”
Kevin White was borderline choked up Saturday when asked about Red’s impact on his son, Alec, a Dragons sophomore.
“He’s a coach year-round,” White said. “He takes my son to summer tournaments all over. He’s been a blessing.
“I trust him. He’s not going to do anything he wouldn’t do for his son. He takes care of my boy like he’s his son.”
Chad Red’s son, Chad (C.J.) Red, is a New Palestine junior and two-time state champion. Ranked No. 1 in the state and the country at 126 pounds, C.J. is over halfway to what has only been accomplished twice in the history of Indiana high school wrestling: a four-year undefeated career.
It’s rare, but I’ve dealt with head coaches who give their son or daughter on the team special treatment. Many years ago, I spoke with a basketball coach after a game in which his son was a key figure. I noted something about the kid having 10 rebounds. The coach/dad looked at me in shock. “He had 19 rebounds,” he replied matter-of-factly. I knew my stats weren’t off by that much, but it wasn’t worth arguing.
I’m here to tell you, regardless of his immensely talented and well-spoken son being a member of the team, Red is as passionate about winning and wrestling as most people are about free food.
Before C.J. even joined the high school team, Red was a New Palestine assistant coach (and likely would still be an assistant had the previous head coach not unexpectedly resigned). We have a terrific picture in the Daily Reporter archives that we’ve published a few times that captures Red the moment he fell out of his coaching chair and onto his butt during a meet, because he was so worked up about that match.
And that’s how Red is every match. If you were to exclusively watch the former University of Indianapolis wrestling team MVP and national qualifier during a New Palestine bout from his spot in the corner of the mat — and not the action itself — you’d have no idea if it was his son or another Dragons wrestler doing battle. He pulls for them all with equal gusto.
“He gets every one of us hyped up just like C.J.,” said Alec White, also a regional champ and one of six New Palestine semistate qualifiers. “We all look at C.J. like a role model, almost. We all try to be like him, but (coach Red) coaches us the exact same.”
Red is a focused flurry of activity during competition: yelling instructions, jumping out of his seat to ask for rule clarifications from an official and arguing a point for his wrestler when necessary.
“It’s my passion,” Red commented. “I love coaching wrestling. I’ll be very honest with you, I don’t like losing to some of these other coaches. I take this stuff very serious. I work extremely hard at it.”
It was something Red mentioned a few weeks ago, following the sectional, that inspired this column. Red was referring to an opposing team matching up against one of his wrestlers when he said, “They don’t have to beat just him. They have to beat both of us.”
That, it struck me, was the essence of a good coach. A coach so ingrained in the sport, in his wrestler’s life that, in spirit, he is on the mat alongside the teenage grappler. For the youngster doing the wrestling, it has to provide tremendous confidence that your coach has provided not only expert knowledge, but is 100 percent emotionally invested in the result.
“Most coaches, you don’t hear like that,” Alec White said. “It sounds like he’s right over top of you, behind you. Always in your ear about doing stuff right. Even when you’re winning by 14, he’s always on you.
“What you see is what you get in the (wrestling) room, too. He’s always full of energy. To me, there’s not a better coach in the world right now.”
White and every other New Palestine wrestler and parent I’ve tracked down laud Red, despite the coach’s intense preparation. A team doesn’t finish fifth in the State Finals, as the Dragons did last February, by taking a few laps around the wrestling room and calling it a day.
“His practices are hard, but I think everyone enjoys coach Red when he’s not wrestling,” said Diep, the New Palestine junior. “Because, he’s actually a pretty cool guy.”
It’s no surprise that Red’s non-wrestling occupation is as a professional mentor to at-risk youth in central Indiana. His entire life is structured around helping others.
“(Wrestling) paid for my college, for four years,” Red said. “And it’s going to help other kids in our program with college. So, if I can just do a little bit to give back, that’s what I’ll do.
“Obviously, I know I have one of my own on the team. But, they’re all mine. I look at them all like that. I value the relationship that I have with them. This relationship just didn’t start in high school. A lot of them, I had wrestling for me (on travel teams) when they were younger. And the rapport will continue after high school.”
It’s that kind of loyalty that inspires New Palestine wrestlers to give that 5 to 10 percent extra, to reach their true potential. It’s also the kind of loyalty that makes an old sportswriter want to hit the mat again. If he asks, I’ll be out there. I’ll skip the singlet, however.
Brian Harmon is the Daily Reporter sports editor. Contact him at 317-477-3227 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.