Twelve high school teams competed in the inaugural Georgia Invitational 7-on-7 football tournament, which began in 2008 under former Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey. Some of the participating teams included Kell, Kennesaw Mountain, North Gwinnett and Chattahoochee.
The event has grown tremendously since then under Irwin, who will be entering his fourth season at the helm of the Trojans this fall. Last year, the program hosted 24 teams as part of the Invitational. Its even bigger this time with 32 participating teams — the largest number in its history with the ability to grow even bigger.
“Chip Lindsey started this in 2008 and it was a great event,” Irwin said. “We’ve just continued it and its grown since then.”
This year’s Invitational will be held July 19 and 20 at Lassiter’s Frank Fillman Stadium, and like seasons past, the winner of the two-day tournament will qualify for one of the 32 spots in the National High School Select 7-on-7 Championship which takes place July 25-26 in Hoover, Ala.
“This kind of tournament has to grow in groups of four,” Irwin said. “The way the brackets are set up and how each game has to involve two teams, it’s the only way to do it. We had 24 last year and 16 a couple of years ago — we’ve had tremendous response from the teams that have played in it and want to come back that it’s grown because other teams want to participate as well.”
Many of the best teams in Georgia have committed to the event, including several region champions like Lovejoy, Cartersville and Flowery Branch. Other teams that have signed up include North Gwinnett, Kell, Walton, Hillgrove, Shiloh, Alpharetta and Centennial.
“The growth of 7-on-7 during the summer over the past six years has been big,” Irwin said. “There weren’t a lot of teams involved back when Lindsey started, but it’s grown over time.
“Our touchdown club runs a great event. We have great facilities and the best teams want to come and compete against the best competition. Our program has had very good success over the past couple of years and that’s helped draw teams to our event as well.”
With the tournament expanding from 24 to 32 teams, the need for volunteers has expanded as well.
“Most of our volunteers come from our touchdown club membership,” Irwin said. “We need people to do lots of different things including keeping the score at games, working concessions, keeping track of the time, help with the setup and breakdown — there’s a lot to do.
“We’re hosting close to 1,000 people over two days and that’s substantial. It’s the biggest event we have each year.”
Because of its increased size, some games of the Georgia Invitational 7-on-7 tournament will be held at Kell for the first time.
“Once we got over 24 teams we knew we’d have to access more field space,” Irwin said. “Kell has been involved with this tournament since it first started and (Longhorns) coach (Derek) Cook was willing to host, so it worked out.
“They have some great field space over there and the school is only about a 10 minute drive from here. Once teams get eliminated, then we’ll move more of the games back to Lassiter.
“It’s a great situation for Kell because their booster club will get to make some money off it and show off their campus to visiting teams. Coach Cook and Kell have been great partners with us and they were a natural choice to help out.”
Unlike past Invitationals, this year’s event featured teams mostly from Georgia. There is only one out-of-state team from South Carolina scheduled to compete.
“Last year we had about three or four teams from Alabama and a team from Tennessee and South Carolina,” Irwin said. “We’ve had teams from Kentucky and other places in the past, but the rules have changed in some states to limit the number of these tournaments teams can compete in, so we’re going to have mostly Georgia teams this year. It should be an exciting event.”