By JEREMY HINES
In middle school Harrison Hadley weighed 60 pounds but had to wrestle in the 75 pound weight class because that was the smallest class available. Today, he’s the big man on campus at Lapel High School.
Hadley, a junior 106-pounder for the Bulldogs, became the school’s first wrestler to ever reach the state finals when he defeated South Dearborn’s Eli Otto 13-5 in the ticket round of the New Castle semistate.
“I definitely feel like I’m the big man on campus right now,” Hadley said. “The elementary school made this big banner for me and everyone signed it. People are going up to me in the halls and around town telling me congratulations and wishing me luck. The school recognized me for advancing. It’s pretty cool right now.”
Lapel has been a school since before the 1870s. At first Lapel was a one-room school house, but over time the location has changed and school buildings have come and gone. The school’s history is one of the oldest in the state. To be the very first athlete to accomplish going to state is something first-year coach Jake Stilwell doesn’t believe has fully sunk in for Hadley yet.
“This is huge for Lapel wrestling,” Stilwell said. “There have only been five semistate qualifiers in school history. For our program, this is absolutely huge. The younger kids see that state isn’t something impossible now. They see it can be done.
“It’s never occurred here before and most people didn’t think it could happen. Now they see Harrison has done it, and it gives them hope. I don’t even know if Harrison has grasped what has happened. It will take a little time for this to all settle in.”
After Hadley won the ticket-round match he immediately wanted to watch film on the match to see what he could have done differently. That’s what he does every match, win or lose.
“I like to see what type of positions I exposed myself to,” Hadley said. “I look at how I could have improved. I look for things that will take me to the next level. I always critique myself, even if I tech fall or pin a kid.”
Stilwell wanted Hadley to take a moment to take in the importance of what he had accomplished at semistate.
“He was very excited when he won,” Stilwell said. “But when he came off the mat he likes to dive right into what just happened and look for ways to improve. We had to stop him and remind him about what he just accomplished. He was excited, but wasn’t showing that emotion. He was still just trying to think of what he could have done differently.”
According to Harrison, the person most excited after the ticket round was his mom, Sonya.
“She was crying and everything,” Hadley said. “She was telling me how proud she was of me. I’ve never really seen her like that. It was a great moment.”
Hadley enters the state tournament with a record of 39 wins and only three losses. Two of those losses came last week at semistate. Hadley fell to Perry Meridian’s Alex Cottey in the semifinal round, then lost to Warren Central’s David Pierson in the consolation match.
Hadley, who likes to race 600cc mini sprint cars in his free time, has wrestled 106 pounds his entire high school career. As a freshman he came into the season weighing just 99 pounds. He’s put on about five pounds per year, but is easily able to get down to weight for the wrestling season.
Hadley is hoping his victory could help the team. He says it’s great to go to state, but it would be much sweeter going there with teammates also competing.
“I see some schools take nine or 10 guys to state,” Hadley said. “I think that would be awesome. Just seeing Cathedral’s team and how well they did at semistate and the bond those guys have, it’s fun to watch.
“Our program has struggled. We have never been that strong. But, if we can start advancing more kids it will really help build things up.”
Last year Lapel had just eight wrestlers. This year there are 17 on the Bulldog roster.
“Lapel is a school that has some good athletes,” Stilwell said. “The challenge is to get those kids to go out for wrestling. I really think Harrison’s success is going to help with that.”
Hadley will take on Brownsburg freshman Kysen Montgomery (38-7) in the Friday night match.
“For me, wrestling is an escape from everything,” Hadley said. “It’s something that helps me focus on my goals. It helps me in life situations and helps build my character. Right now my major goal is to be able to wrestle in college.”