IT’S LATE fall and it’s time again for Jackson County to offer its early-season test area and state wrestling teams.
The school is set to host the always-tough Panther Invitational this Friday and Saturday. This year’s event includes 20 teams in addition to Jackson County and all four intra-county schools.
“It’s loaded yet again,” Jackson County coach Jason Powers said.
Action starts 5 p.m. Friday and resumes Saturday at 9 a.m.
The lineup includes Gilmer County, Jefferson, Athens Christian, George Walton, Peachtree Ridge, Clarke Central, Eastside, Lakeside-Evans, St. Cloud (Fla.), Commerce, Elbert County, Lumpkin County, Westside, East Hall, Flowery Branch, North Gwinnett, East Jackson, Gainesville, Oconee County and Winder-Barrow.
“From top to bottom, it’s going to be a very, very tough tournament this year,” Powers said.
This year’s tournament does include an out-of-state team — St. Cloud, Fla. One of the St. Cloud coaches spent several years in Georgia and was familiar with the tournament and arranged to bring his team north for this year’s event.
Powers said the Panther Invitational has had out-of-state teams before.
“We had North Mrytle Beach come in a couple years ago,” Powers said. “I’m not sure what this team will be bringing but I’m suspecting if they’re traveling from Florida, they might be bringing some pretty tough kids.”
Powers expects anywhere from 250 to 280 wrestlers to compete in this event. That group will feature some of the best grapplers in the state.
“I highly expect that we’ll have multiple state placers probably in every single bracket,” he said. “The finals should be a lot of fun to watch again.”
The Panther Invitational is now in its 19th year. While the event has grown into a large tournament, it stands to grow even larger when Jackson County’s new gym is completed.
Powers said the Panther Invitational could expand to a five or even six-mat tournament with the new facility.
“Once I get six (mats) down, we’ll probably be good to go for probably a 32-man bracket,” Powers said.
Powers said he’s very proud of where the Panther Invitational is now and where it can go with more space with a new gym in the works.
“Where we’re at right now as far our facilities are concerned and the teams we have it in, I’m extremely happy where the tournament is at,” Powers said. “It’s an awesome early-season test. If you can place at the Panther, then you should have a pretty good season this year.”
As for his own team’s goals in this year’s Panther Invitational, Powers wants to improve upon last year’s performance in which Jackson County had no champions and placed only one wrestler in the finals.
“So I would say have multiple finalists and have at least one champion,” Powers said. “And then hopefully, we can have five or six kids placing.”
He also hopes his group will be one of the top teams in the overall standings.
“We’re still trying to get our lineup shuffled into place, but if we can find a place in that top six, that would be really, really good,” Powers said.
Jackson County coach Jason Powers and his wrestling team host the Panther Invitational this weekend.