Dubuque Hempstead’s Chad Bellis (top) applies a hold on Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s Austin Clifton during their Dec. 21 match at Moody Gymnasium. Bellis, a Bloomington, Ill., transfer, is 6-0 with six pins for the Mustangs.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges to families across the country.

Chad Bellis’ family was just another forced to adapt, and that change brought a new face into the Hempstead wrestling program.

Bellis’ father was a painter in Bloomington, Ill., but the state’s stricter pandemic protocol virtually eliminated any need for his services over the spring and summer.

After all, not many people were going to invite a stranger into their home in the midst of a global crisis.

“Going in their house and stuff like that, it was a small business already, so corona kind of killed that,” Bellis said.

So, his parents decided a change of scenery was in order. The Bellis family packed up and moved to Dubuque, and Bellis, already a standout wrestler, enrolled at Hempstead for his senior year.

“It’s a new feel. It’s a lot different than Bloomington, but I like it and I’m glad I’m here,” he said.

It was a blessing for the Hempstead wrestling program, which already had high hopes for this season.

“He’s just a great kid,” Hempstead coach Chuck Haas said. “He’s a good student, he hasn’t been real vocal, but he’s a leader from a work-ethic standpoint. He’s got that leadership skill, too. He’s a real confident kid in all walks of life. He’s a well-rounded kid.”

Bellis brings a resume with him, too.

He is a two-time state medalist in Illinois and won the 2019 Class 2A 106-pound championship as a sophomore, going 44-11.

“It was surreal because I think for most of my wrestling career, I never really believed in myself,” Bellis said. “But, once I got to high school I kind of saw success and it kept on piling on. Eventually I won a state championship, so it was really surreal to see that I’m better than I really think.”

Winning it all was a bit of a double-edged sword, though. Not only did it give Bellis the confidence that he could compete at an elite level, it maybe gave him too much. He went 52-5 as a junior, but finished fifth at 113.

“I kind of came into the tournament with a big head, cocky, thinking no one was going to be able to beat me,” he said. “That ended up me with coming into the quarterfinals not prepared and not ready and getting upset. I had to deal with a lot of nervousness and anxiety from trying to become a back-to-back state champ. It was really hard to deal with all that pressure.”

Wrestling has a way of humbling even the elite. Turning losses into lessons is what makes wrestlers great.

And that is how Bellis treated it, with some good old-fashioned honesty.

“What I learned was no matter how good you think you are, you really just have to focus on getting better every day,” he said. “I did try to get better every day, but at the same time I also didn’t really respect my other opponents. I didn’t think they were as good as me or on my level, but I quickly realized they were and you have to stay humble at all times. It was a rude awakening.”

Bellis is now at Hempstead and immediately eligible because of the manner in which he transferred — his entire family moved and established residency here for reasons other than athletics.

He is Iowa Class 3A’s No. 3-ranked wrestler at 120 pounds and is 6-0 with six pins — four in the first period. He is currently wrestling at 126, but plans to drop to 120 for the postseason.

“He provides leadership in a different way where he just walks in the room every day and works harder than anyone else,” Haas said. “He’s similar to a Joe Pins type of kid. He’s always the first there, last to leave and is working hard the whole time. There’s a reason why he’s been successful in the past and why he’s a threat to win a state title this year.”

He helps others in the program, too. Adler Kramer, Hempstead’s two-time state qualifier, is Bellis’ primary workout partner.

“He’s a great athlete and a really good wrestler, so wrestling him every day in the room is probably the best competition I’ve had,” Kramer said. “It just makes you push harder every day and get better.”

Winning the 3A 120-pound state title is the top goal on Bellis’ list. No. 2 is signing with an NCAA Division I program.

His third goal is much easier: Just get better at one thing each day.

And while he still gets adjusted to a new school in a new state, he has felt welcomed at Hempstead. He’s now just waiting for his chance to go after those goals.

“Everybody was really nice to me, everybody was really welcoming,” he said. “I’m still really curious to see how the top-level wrestlers compete in Iowa. I kind of want to compare it to Illinois wrestling, but so far I think it’s pretty similar. I’m enjoying it every day.”

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