NEW PALESTINE — Affordability isn’t necessarily synonymous with high-level when it pertains to summer wrestling camps.
New Palestine High School wrestling head coach Alex Johns discovered this quickly as he began seeking out off-season opportunities for his team.
Shortly after the IHSAA state finals this past February, Johns researched several four-day wrestling camps in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and throughout the Midwest. Each looked promising and carried substantial clout with multiple high-caliber clinicians, but they often came with a hefty $400 price tag.
“That’s a lot of money for some kids and families, and there are travel expenses, too,” he remarked.
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The solution, Johns believed, wasn’t to cross the state line or even the county border, but to bring the best of the best to his wrestling room.
With nearly 70 wrestlers from across the Indianapolis area packed into the Dragons’ training room the past four days, Johns’ vision exceeded all expectations, including his own.
“The goal was to create a camp where it wasn’t very expensive,” Johns commented after completing the final session of the inaugural All-American Wrestling Camp hosted by the Dragons Wrestling Club.
“I was a college wrestler, and I was able to make great contacts. With so much great wrestling around the city of Indianapolis, the clinicians and athletes, I reached out to some individuals I knew, tossed the idea out there, and (New Palestine athletics director) Al Cooper and the administration helped me get this built.”
A former two-time NCAA Division II All-American at the University of Indianapolis, Johns swiped through his contact list and his initial one- or two-day camp concept grew to four as the invitees seemed endless.
Each day this week, a new group of college coaches and collegiate and national standouts took charge of the room, leading wrestlers set to become sixth graders through seniors this fall for a pair of two-hour sessions.
Competitors from rivals Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and other Indianapolis-area programs signed up as well at $50 per person.
“These types of camps are tremendous. Not only do you get the technique from all the different guys, you get it from a guy who is on the (USA National) Team, college level coaches at DI and DII,” Greenfield-Central head coach Josh Holden said. “They get to hear other voices besides ours. I think the big thing is they get to see people like this in person and realize that it could be them one day.”
The camp opened with former New Palestine head coach Chad Red Sr. and his son, Chad “C.J.” Red on the mats. Red Sr., who runs the Red Cobra Wrestling Academy, brought 19 years of coaching savvy to the room along with an NJCAA All-American pedigree.
C.J. Red, an undefeated four-time state champion and national champion for the Dragons in his career, came back to Hancock County from the University of Nebraska where he will be a sophomore this fall.
On the far wall in the wrestling room, C.J. Red’s 183-0 legacy, which is commemorated by a life-sized poster, drives today’s Dragons, along with Purdue freshman Alec White’s recent state title run this year, said in-coming New Palestine junior Noah Wright.
“We’ve had five state champions the last five years. We need to keep the streak going,” said Wright, who wrestled at 145 pounds in 2016-17. “What they did, it really lifts us up to be better. I was at state last year, and I’ve never been to state before until I went to see Alec. He’s a close friend of mine. We’ve wrestled together since the sixth grade. To see him beat everyone, it makes me want to do the same thing.”
Jason Warthan, a NCAA Division II All-American and current head coach at the UIndy, gave wrestlers like Wright the tools they need to succeed. Danny Irwin, the head coach at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia and two-time Division III national qualifier, supplied the youths with more insight.
UIndy assistant coach Cashe Quiroga, an NCAA All-American at Purdue in 2010, and three-time NCAA Division II All-American Nick Crume of UIndy also worked with the campers.
Marion University head coach Steven Bradley, a three-time state champion at Beech Grove High School, served as a clinician along with Brandon Wright, a current member of the U.S. National Team.
“Opportunities like this help a lot because you can see the different moves that have worked for other people at a higher level than you,” in-coming Greenfield-Central senior Brad Lowe said. “You look up to them, and you can come in and learn. I try to soak up as much as a I can. I’m looking forward to next season after this off-season.”
For Brandon Wright, who runs an upstart wrestling club called Regret No Opportunities, the camp gave him a platform to give back and share his story.
A two-time IHSAA state champion at Cathedral and Warren Central with a promising future, Wright admits past mistakes and immaturity cost him a scholarship to Indiana University as a high school senior.
Forced to travel the junior college route after graduating from Warren Central, Wright, a 2008 Fargo cadet freestyle national champion, was able to correct course and became a two-time NJCAA All-American at Iowa Central Community College. The new father, who is expecting a daughter in November, later earned two NAIA national titles at Grand View University in Iowa.
He joined the U.S. National Team this year and competed in the World Team Trials with plans to wrestle overseas in the near future.
“I’m staying busy in the sport and staying positive, putting time in and still believing in myself,” Brandon Wright said. “It’s been a humbling journey because I felt I really needed to dig deeper to find out what I was doing and who I was because I became a new father last November.
“It’s my motto: ‘Regret No Opportunities.’ It’s a lifestyle. I’m just promoting opportunities. Not letting opportunities like a full-ride to Indiana University slip through your hands,” he added. “I don’t want the youth out here in Indianapolis to experience that.”
The plan, Johns said, is to make the camp a tradition, welcoming back many of this year’s instructors and adding more — without asking families to sacrifice too much for the skills needed to thrive.
“This is the first year and we had 65 wrestlers. I thought it was a great turnout and a great experience for our kids and other kids in the area,” Johns said. “As a young wrestler, they have idols. They have people they look up to, and if you put somebody like that in front of you to answer questions, that’s very impactful. It’s a great learning experience for our guys.”
All-American Wrestling Camp Clinicians
Jason Warthan, University of Indianapolis
• UIndy head wrestling coach
• 2000 NCAA Div. II All-American (UIndy)
• 2014 & 2017 NCAA Super Region #2 Coach of the Year
Danny Irwin, Wheeling Jesuit University
• Wheeling Jesuit head wrestling coach
• Two-time Div. III national qualifier (Manchester)
Cashé Quiroga, University of Indianapolis
• UIndy assistant coach
• 2010 NCAA Div. I All-American (Purdue)
• Three-time NCAA Div. I national qualifier
• 2008 IHSAA state champion (Lawrence North)
Nick Crume, University of Indianapolis
• Three-time NCAA Div. II All-American
• Two-time NCAA Super Region #2 champion
• 2013 IHSAA state champion (Jimtown)
Steven Bradley, Marian University
• Marian University head wrestling coach
• 2000 NJCAA runner-up (Lincoln College)
• Three-time IHSAA state champion (Beech Grove)
Chad Red, Red Cobra Wrestling Academy
• Co-owner/head coach at Red Cobra
• NJCAA All-American
• Coached 8 Indiana Junior national teams
Brandon Wright, Regret No Opportunites
• 2017 U.S. Open freestyle runner-up
• 2014 University Nationals freestyle runner-up
• Two-time NAIA national champion (Grand View)
• Two-time NJCAA All-American (Iowa Central)
• Two-Time IHSAA state champion (Cathedral, Warren Central)
• 2008 Fargo Cadet freestyle national champion
Chad (C.J.) Red, University of Nebraska
• Four-time IHSAA state champion (New Palestine)
• 2015 FloNationals champion
• 2014 Super 32 champion
• 2014 Fargo Junior freestyle national champion