INDIANAPOLIS — The historic magnitude of the night unfolded in microcosmic moments.
Each built toward a perfect reality on Saturday night as the impossible dream came face to face with its champion.
For a fourth consecutive time in his high school career, New Palestine’s Chad Red Jr., better known as C.J., stood in the championship spotlight inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse — unbeaten, unfazed and unmatched.
Headed to the University of Nebraska next year, the state’s top grappler finished his high school career without a single loss, only the third in state history to boast such a record.
Even with the possibility of his streak ending at win No. 182, Red conquered doubt with competitive greatness, saving his best for the 132-pound finale during the 78th Annual IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, against his biggest challenge yet.
“It was an out-of-body experience for me,” said Niki Red, C.J.’s mother. “Every set of eyes were on that match. It was hard to handle.”
As Red fell behind early 4-0 to Evansville Mater Dei’s Nick Lee after getting put on his back in the first period, the crowd of more than 12,000 gasped and cheered with fans divided into two distinct camps.
The nation’s top-ranked wrestler didn’t cower, however. He simply did what he’s always done.
C.J. Red fought through his opponent, and the boos intermixed with applause.
He rallied back to win by decision 6-5 in the most anticipated match in state finals history and pried the 132-pound title from Lee, who returned from a potentially season-ending back injury to defend his crown.
The final two minutes of the match defined the four-year journey and Red’s dominance this year and the three prior as he burned the clock and subdued the nationally-ranked Lee.
The stage belonged to the unstoppable Red even as he sprinted off the mat, leaping atop a barrier wall, pumping his fist and celebrating with the Dragons’ faithful in the stands.
“So much weight dropped off my back when I won because I finally got it done,” an elated Red remarked after his historic 183-0 finish and 44-0 season. “Not many people can do it. Not many people thought I could, but here I am.”
And there he stood at night’s end more than an hour after having his hand raised, medal in hand, surrounded by a community proud to call him “champ,” only the third in state history to win four wrestling state titles without a loss.
The victory catapulted Red into an elite fraternity of wrestling greats, joining the ranks of Cathedral’s Lance Ellis (172-0 from 1986-89) and Griffith’s Alex Tsirtsis (236-0 from 2001-04).
Presented with the only medal he’s come to know, gold, Red accepted his prize from Ellis, who draped Red’s last prize around his neck, whispering all he needed to hear, “You did it, champ.”
“It lived up to the hype. Everybody won here tonight,” Ellis said. “This whole match is great for the sport. Very rarely do you see two kids of that caliber in the state finals together. Chad Red will go down in history.”
Signing hats, T-shirts, programs and even cellphone cases as supporters and adoring kids lined up in mass for a chance to shake Red’s hand and snap a commemorative photo, his father, Chad Red Sr., wiped tears from his eyes.
“I’m overwhelmed with joy,” said Red Sr., C.J.’s head coach at New Palestine. “I’m very proud. I can’t even put it into words. I’m happy for New Pal. I’m proud to be his dad.”
For more on Saturday’s IHSAA Wrestling State Finals, see page B1.