By:  J. Daniel Pearson

Some of the top high school wrestling teams in Florida and Georgia invaded Kissimmee this past weekend for the Danny Byron Invitation, held at Osceola High School.  Those top teams from Florida included multiple-time state champion South Dade, Miami Southwest, Lake Gibson, Fleming Island, Hagerty, Palmetto Ridge, Fleming Island and host Osceola.  Georgia teams included perennial Peach State powers Camden and Colquitt County.

At the end of the competition, Osceola had two champions standing as Anderson Heap won the 157-lb. weight class and Gunner Holland took the 177-lb. weight class – both collecting the coveted hammer trophies signifying champions of the grueling two-day tournament.

The 21 competing teams were divided into one of three qualifying brackets and participated in Friday’s IBT (Individual Bracket Tournament), with the top two finishers advancing to the Gold Championship Bracket on Saturday where they wrestled a round robin event and had to win five matches to win the event.

“When you consider the quality of teams in the tournament, you have to very good just to advance to the Gold Bracket on Saturday and then you had to win five times to guarantee a championship.  Obviously Gunner and Holland had outstanding tournaments, but I was very pleased with the entire team,” Osceola coach Rick Tribit said.  “We sent nine wrestlers to the gold bracket and several of our young guys did really well.  Even in the matches where we took our lumps, we got better this weekend and that will serve as well as we head into the meat of our regular season schedule.”

Heap, who is coming off back-to-back state championships, dominated the event in his weight class.  After breezing through Friday’s White Bracket, he went 5-0 on Saturday with three falls and two major decisions – including a 17-4 win over Southwest Miami’s Shannon Davie.

Holland, who won state 3A titles as a freshman and sophomore, battled injuries in last year’s state tournament before still managing a third place finish, had a much tougher road in his weight class.  Although he recorded a fall, a technical fall and a major decision on Saturday, he had to battle to a 3-0 win over South Dade’s Kevin Olavarria and then won a narrow 6-5 decision over Camden County’s (Georgia) Konlin Weaver – a wrestler who won two Georgia State championship titles and finished second last year despite wrestling on a severely injured ankle.

“Gunner is still fighting through some injuries and had a really tough draw today,” Tribit said.  “But he fought through it like he always does.”  

In addition to Holland and Heap, Osceola had an overall silver medal winner as freshman Adais Ortiz (113) went 4-1 on Saturday and 7-1 in the tournament to place second overall.  His only loss on the weekend was to Gold Champion Bradley Patterson (7-0) of Camden (Georgia).

The Kowboys had a big day in Friday’s opener as Ortiz, Ehab Shalaby (126), Jayson Ortiz (144), Nathaniel Cabrera (150), Heap and Holland all went undefeated to finish at the top of their bracket and advance to Saturday’s top division round-robin.

Holland (2021-22) and Heap (2022-23) have each won two state championships for the Kowboys and began the season ranked number one in their weight classes in Class 3A.  Heap breezed to the 157-lb. white bracket title with falls over Joshua Folsom (Deland) and Jondell Davies (Cypress Creek); as well as 20-5 technical fall over Hagerty’s Gavin Nelson in the final.

After receiving a first round bye in the 177-lb. class, Holland had little trouble in disposing of Mason Perkins (Deland) and Conner Gilliam (Hagerty) with first period pins to win his bracket. 

Ortiz and Shalaby are two younger Osceola wrestlers that impressed on Friday.  Ortiz won his bracket with three consecutive pins; while Shalaby won his first two matches by fall before dominating Lake Gibson’s Roberto DeJesus in the bracket final by a 6-1 count.

In addition to the six Kowboy grapplers who won their weight class, Taylyn Fisk (120), Caleb Negron (138), and Deacon DeLong (165) all grabbed second place finishes; while Jaquille Know (285) finished on the podium with a third place finish to advance to the Blue consolation bracket.

Celebration’s Sammy Nouaydi (132), Austin Werner (144) and Luke Jackson (157) each won two matches on Friday to finish fourth in their weight classes. 

Powerhouse Camden brought a large squad (32 competitors) to the meet and enter teams in both the “Blue” and “Gold” divisions.  That squad had 11 wrestlers finish on top of Friday’s brackets, including eight champions in the Blue division and three in the Gold.  Miami Southwest had five champions in the Gold Bracket.

Camden led all schools with three individual champions.  Osceola, Southwest Miami, and Fleming Island won two individual titles each.  There was no team scores kept. The tournament is named after Danny Byron, a three-time state qualifier for the Kowboys who died in a tragic car accident in 2011 at age 22.

Osceola’s next big event is the 2023 Christmas Knockout Classic at Silver Spurs Arena, Dec. 19-22.  Considered one of the top high school wrestling tournament in the nation, Tribit is expecting more than 70 teams with numerous state champions and national place winners participating. 

Danny Byron Invitational

Gold Division Hammer Champions

  • 106 Byron Morales, South Dade
  • 113 Bradley Patterson, Camden County (Georgia)
  • 120 Jordan Mukadden, Fleming Island
  • 126 Brandon Higgins, Camden County (Georgia)
  • 132 Dillon Smith, Southwest Miami 
  • 138 Nik Blake, Hagerty
  • 144 Cavarius Liddie, Gainesville Bucholtz
  • 150 Kader Schafer, Fleming Island

157 Anderson Heap, Osceola

160 Willie White, Southwest Miami

177 Gunner Holland, Osceola

  • 190 Ryder Wilder, Camden County (Georgia)
  • 215 Conner Olivares, Wellington
  • 285 Kaden Darwin, Palmetto Ridge