Danny Poupore entered the state wrestling tournament knowing he faced an uphill challenge if he was to meet his goal: winning a state championship.
The Saline High School senior began the year aiming for a state championship match against rival Hunter Hohman of Lapeer. Poupore, who shattered the Saline High School record for career victories, was a three-time all-state wrestler with one major bullet point missing from his wrestling resume: a state championship. Poupore planned to rectify that during the post-season this winter.
But at the regional championship at Saline High School on Feb. 17, Joshua Edmond, a sophomore from Detroit Catholic Central, upset those plans. Edmond had dropped from a higher weight class to wrestle at 130 pounds. In the regional final, Edmond defeated Poupore in the championship. So the map to the state championship was already looking sketchy when Poupore lost a 6-1 decision to Jackson’s Jared Riggins in the second round of the state championship at Ford Field.
“The kid was way better than I expected. So props to him for taking it to me,” Poupore said. “I was very disappointed and very upset with myself that I wasn’t going to reach my goal.”
Poupore suddenly faced a new reality. He could pack it in and still go home as the winningest wrestler in Saline High School history. Or he could fight his way back and see how far it would take him.
For a kid who’d been fighting his way back since he was five years old, it wasn’t much of a choice. It was second nature.
Poupore is the son of Mike and Crystal Poupore. Mike wrestled in middle school and high school. When Danny was five there weren’t a lot of sports for him to play. Crystal met a woman whose husband was a youth wrestling coach and who ran a wrestling camp. The Poupores signed Danny up for the camp.
“I noticed he was picking up the moves pretty quickly,” Crystal said. “After those few weeks, we learned that there were wrestling clubs that practiced and then went to weekend tournaments.”
Danny remembers falling in love with the sport early on.
“I tried other sports, but I was pretty good at wrestling. It’s always fun when you’re good at something,” he said. “Wrestling was my calling.”
He enjoyed early success.
“Danny seemed to pick up on things quickly and always practiced hard. Probably his second year of wrestling we took him to the Ohio Tournament of Champions, which is a huge one-day tournament. There were probably 60 kids on his chart and he ended up placing second,” Crystal remembered.
At eight years old he won his first MYWAY state championship.
Since then, wrestling has become a family affair. They send Danny to camps and clinics. They attend tournaments as a family on a regular basis. Danny’s younger sister Lexi was around wrestling so much that she picked it up and became a good wrestler in her own right.
Scott Marvin, assistant wrestling coach at Saline High School, has been coaching Danny since he was in eighth grade.
“The quality that I think makes him a great wrestler is the fact that he loves to do it,” Marvin said. “Danny seems to enjoy his time in the wrestling room, preparing himself and helping his teammates get better. Danny also seems to enjoy the opportunities to challenge himself against better competition both in practice and during competition.”
He spends the offseason wrestling the best in the state.
“The only way to be the best is to beat the best,” Poupore said.
Poupore joined the Saline High School wrestling program with high expectations. He delivered.
As a freshman, he went 39-4 and placed seventh at 103 pounds. As a sophomore, he went 45-6 and finished seventh again. As a junior he went 46-5. He won the state championship quarterfinal match for the first time in his career but then lost a 5-3 decision to the eventual state champion from Davison. Poupore went on to finish fifth.
Three years into his wrestling career he was a three-time all-state wrestler. He entered his senior year just 37 wins short of the Saline High School record set by Greg Degrand in 1995. On Jan. 27, at the Saline Superduals – a huge tournament dedicated to Poupore’s late teammate Ryan Estrada – Poupore won his final match of the day by void to break the record.
Saline wrestling head coach Chad O’Brien said there are a lot of factors that go into breaking a career wrestling record. First of all, you need a wrestler with special talent and skill.
“Danny is clearly a very talented and skilled wrestler. This level of skill doesn't come naturally or easily,” O’Brien said.
Ability is just the beginning.
“Danny has worked very hard over the years to refine and hone his skills into what they are today. He is dedicated to the sport of wrestling and spends the majority of his year practicing and competing,” O’Brien added.
It should probably go without saying, since it’s wrestling, that toughness is a key ingredient. Many great wrestlers can’t go a full season without experiencing an injury that sidelines them for a few weeks. Poupore has been healthy virtually his high school career. There’s luck involved. And yes, there’s toughness involved too. But O’Brien also traces it back to discipline.
“Wresting is a long season and sustaining your health throughout the year is a major piece of the puzzle. Danny has been training for four years now and understands how to take care of his body. Our schedule puts us up against many of the top programs in the state and for Danny to stay healthy he must be committed and dedicated to his training and diet,” O’Brien said.
Marvin and O’Brien understood Poupore’s disappointment after he lost in round two of the state tournament.
“I talked to my coaches and they helped me turn my mindset right around,” Poupore said. “I realized that all that work I did – all those workouts and morning runs and all those hours in practice – I could still put all that to work. I could still take third place. I knew I didn’t want another seventh place finish.”
Next up was the blood round – aptly named because if you win, you’re on the podium and if you lose, you’re sent packing. The blood round produces the most desperate, knock-down, drag-out matches you’ll see. But Poupore entered his blood round bout against Southgate Anderson’s Logan Palshan with confidence. He’d beaten him twice already this year.
“I wasn’t nervous. But obviously, I didn’t want to take anything for granted. Anything can happen at the state tournament,” Poupore said.
He won by decision, 9-1. Poupore was on the podium – but he was still a long way from third.
He followed that up with a 10-3 win over Birmingham Groves Damon Dunbar.
Next up was Romeo’s Hunter Garris. Poupore won 9-4.
With three straight victories, Poupore had vaulted himself into the consolation final, where he met the kid that he’d previously hoped he would meet in the championship. Lapeer’s Hunter Hohman had beaten Poupore last year. He’d won a 3-2 decision during an offseason match, too.
“He’d beat me last season and I wanted to get my redemption,” Poupore said.
Poupore knew it was going to be a battle. But it was a battled he’d been preparing for all year. Hohman is shorter and stockier. Poupore is taller and lean.
“I'm not a very strong wrestler. I have a lean body. But I'm quick on the mat. I'm very technical,” Poupore said. “I know that, whoever I'm wrestling, I'm probably going to be quicker than them and more technical.”
Poupore wanted to use his reach advantage.
“I tied up him and didn’t let him slow me down,” Poupore said.
Poupore scored two points with a takedown in the first period. He rode him out and led 2-0 after the first period. He chose to start the second period on bottom and he earned an escape to make it 3-0.
Poupore started the third period on top. Hohman escaped to make it 3-1.
“I wrestled my match, kept him off my legs and honestly stalled the rest of the matched.
Then Hohman added a second point when Poupore was penalized for stalling. But Poupore held on for the 3-2 win.
It wasn’t the state championship Poupore dreamed of, but it was a sweet victory, and he knew it.
“My coaches hugged me and told me they were proud of me. It was a pretty emotional moment. I’d fought back all the way to have my best finish and I had to beat the kid I’d lost to before to get there. It was everything I could have asked for,” Poupore said. “I felt like all that work I’d done paid off.”
Poupore finished his senior year with a 54-3 record. He finished his high school career with 188 wins and 18 losses – breaking the old school record by 21 wins. He is the first four-time all-state wrestler in the history of Saline wrestling.
Poupore hasn’t announced his college plans. He’s considering offers from several Division 2 schools. He wants to wrestle and knows he won’t get much time on the mats at a Division 1 school. While he doesn’t know where he’ll study, he knows what he’ll study.
Poupore will study nursing. Like he knew wrestling was a calling, he’s come to see nursing as a calling. Poupore, who salutes his late teammate Ryan Estrada before every match and after every victory, said his friend’s death impacted him profoundly.
“I felt helpless while he was passing away. I couldn’t do anything for him,” Poupore said. “I want to be able to help people.”