Coach Danny Upchurch of Wayne County High School (WCHS) looked tired the day I talked to him. Returning from Lexington, he and other Kentucky coaches just attended a six-hour meeting online with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
The ultimate decision was to delay all winter sports until January 4 in our Commonwealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, his current mission (while commanding instructions from his whistle) involved preparing his wrestlers for the season's start.
Upchurch is both the head coach and founder of WCHS's wrestling program. This season marks the 38th year of the program's existence and history.
Currently, Upchurch is Kentucky's leader already with the most wins by a wrestling coach. This season, he is only 16 away from his profound 1000th victory--placing him third nationally.
"It will be a huge honor for Coach Upchurch and our wrestling program," said WCHS Athletic Director Kevin Jones. "He is well-known in the wrestling community in Kentucky and nationwide, and we appreciate all the work he and others have done to make the program great."
Upchurch is a Monticello native and 1976 WCHS graduate --later gaining a degree from Morehead State University while being a collegiate football player. This is where he started his wrestling interest (football athletes took wrestling courses to improve their conditioning and coordination).
Besides being WCHS's wrestling coach, he is also a 40-year educator who plans on retiring at the school calendar's end. However, he remains undecided about hanging up his whistle as a wrestling coach.
"I don't know if I am going to retire from wrestling," Upchurch said." I have not made my mind up yet, and I will have to wait and see."
After graduating college, Upchurch was an assistant football coach at other Kentucky schools for a couple of years. However, he soon returned home to help coach WCHS football. Altogether, he spent 19 years in the sport before stepping down as the head coach.
Additionally, Upchurch founded and installed a wrestling program at his hometown school in 1983. Building the program from the ground up, he eventually assembled one becoming notorious throughout the Commonwealth and all over the country.
"My first win was against Oneida Baptist in Clay County," Upchurch said. "When we went over there, they beat us."
"They had to come here later," Upchurch continued. "They had to bring their own mat because we didn't have one."
Upchurch set up feeder programs for elementary and middle school students. Presently, several of his wrestlers remain in the program since grade school.
Reaching the Kentucky State Dual for the first time in 1994, WCHS consistently remains a recognized presence at statewide finals. Throughout the years, Upchurch has multiple wrestlers receiving the honors of state champions and All Americans (with several going on to the collegiate level).
His other accolades include numerous wrestlers achieving state runner-up and third-place finishes in Kentucky. Besides coaching varsity wrestling, Upchurch also leads the AAU wrestling team from Wayne County.
"We have around a 74-percent win total at the state dual meets," Upchurch said. "We are very proud of our program."
Astoundingly, Upchurch is one of only a few coaches amassing so many victories at only one school. More remarkable, his program and potential wrestlers hail from a small county that competes regularly against metropolitan schools with a much larger population.
"It's not just about me because our program was built on the help and support from many people in our school and community," Upchurch said. "We have also had a lot of good wrestlers come through this program."
It is not uncommon for many of Upchurch's former wrestlers to come back and either coach or volunteer in the program. Many now have their children and other relatives involved in the sport.
"I think we have built something here that has become a family legacy," Upchurch said. "A lot of kids we have now had brothers, dads, and uncles wrestle here before."
"I enjoy watching the kids develop and become successful," Upchurch continued. "I'm proud of all of them for the hard work and dedication they put in."
The monumental 1000th victory for Upchurch is coming likely this season. For now, this milestone achievement is on the back burner awaiting the kickoff for a new year.