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Danny Buteau arrived in Allen, Texas, last week with the single-minded determination to win a national wrestling championship.
The Husson University sophomore, who won four individual state titles while attending Oak Hill High School in Wales, was well on his way after the first day of competition at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association championships, which feature schools that do not have varsity programs.
Three early victories advanced Buteau to Friday’s 141-pound quarterfinals, but moments before he stepped onto the mat again he received horrifying news from home — his uncle, 26-year-old Shane Sauer, had been killed in a shooting in Swanville.
Austin McDevitt, 22, of Morrill has been charged with murder in Sauer’s death and made his first court appearance Monday at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast.
“I found out about 10 minutes before my quarterfinal match,” said the 19-year-old Buteau, who last saw Sauer around Christmas. “Obviously my head wasn’t into it right before the match but my dad told me to win it for him [Sauer].”
Buteau did win that match and went on to defeat the wrestler who had eliminated him in the 2018 national semifinals. He then outlasted the fighter who had edged him in the Northeast regional qualifying meet two weeks earlier to achieve his championship goal.
“When I talked to my mom on the phone, she told me to do it for Shane,” Buteau said. “There was just so much pressure, and it wasn’t that easy because the guys I was fighting were good. I just didn’t want to let anybody down, and I’m glad I didn’t. Not that I was actually going to let them down; I wanted to win.”
Buteau is one of two Husson wrestlers who practiced and traveled with the University of Maine club team this winter on the way to earning NCWA All-America honors.
Eddie DeRoche, a former wrestling standout at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford who returned to the sport after taking last year off, followed up his Northeast Conference title by finishing sixth at 149 pounds at nationals.
“Eddie’s a great wrestler, and we definitely made each other better throughout the season,” Buteau said of his training partner. “If one of us wasn’t there, I don’t think the other would have been All-America. We pushed each other all year.”
His freshman year of club wrestling at the Bangor school ended just shy of All-America status.
“I set really big goals this year,” he said. “It was a great learning experience, especially going out to Texas. I was close last year and stepped it up this year.”
Buteau is pursuing a physical education degree at Husson after a star-studded athletic career at Oak Hill where he won 179 career bouts and four state wrestling championships. He also played cornerback and receiver to help the Raiders win Class D football state titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
He also officiates high school, middle school and peewee wrestling.
Buteau took a 16-2 season record to the 2019 nationals and was seeded fourth in the 64-man bracket at 141 pounds after losing a one-point decision to Marcos Mercado of Springfield (Massachusetts) Tech Community College in the March 2 Northeast Conference finals.
Buteau was upbeat after winning three matches during Thursday’s opening rounds, but his confidence was shattered at least briefly the next day when he learned of his uncle’s death.
“I just happened to look over and noticed Danny showing a bit of emotion,” DeRoche said. “I asked him what was up and he filled me in, and I gave him a hug and let him know it was good and we were still here to wrestle, so let’s get this job done.”
Buteau was taken down by his opponent in the opening seconds of his ensuing match, but quickly regrouped to score a second-round victory and advance to the semifinals.
“After that the shock was gone,” he said. “I already knew what happened, and from there I told my parents to please not bring [Sauer’s death] up because I didn’t want that to be on my mind and I really needed to focus on one thing and one thing only.
“I said I’ll deal with everything else when I get back in Maine, but obviously it was still in the back of my head when I went out for that next fight.”
Maine Maritime Academy coach Don McCann, who worked Buteau’s corner during the tournament, was unaware of the tragedy as he watched the quarterfinal.
“I can only imagine what Danny was going through,” McCann said. “He did get taken down early, which was a little surprising, but at the time I didn’t know anything other than wrestling going on.
“The way he was able to perform like he did, with the adversity he was going through with his family, was absolutely amazing.”
Buteau slipped past top-seeded Wesley Hollingsworth of East Carolina 4-3 in the semifinals, avenging an overtime loss in last year’s quarterfinals.
“I’m a really positive person and I really try to keep a good attitude toward everything,” Buteau said. “I’m very fortunate I didn’t learn about it right before my semifinal match because I don’t know what would have happened.”
Saturday’s championship bout was a 3-2, double-overtime survival of Mercado. The winning point came when the second-seeded All-American was penalized for stalling while trying to prevent Buteau from escaping his way to victory.
Buteau quickly sought out his father in the stands, and dedicated the championship to the relative he’ll never see again.
“It’s a very rare person who can take that kind of horrible situation and compartmentalize and still perform at such a high level. It was incredible,” McCann said.