CHULA — The Panther Prowl returns Saturday morning, the annual running of Tiftarea Academy’s biggest local cross country event.
“The season is going fairly well,” said head coach David Dark in an email. Besides his own teams, the Panther Prowl’s current roster includes Berrien, Fitzgerald, Cook, Ware County and Valdosta-based Highlands Christian and Scintilla Charter.
Varsity girls will begin at 9 a.m. with varsity boys and middle school races to follow. The start and finish lines are behind the visitors’ side of the stadium.
Dark is assisted by Cindy Harbort. “She wears many hats and mostly wears her XC one on Saturdays,” said Dark. Harbort will don a second hat later that day for the state softball tournament only a few feet away from the cross country course.
“My varsity boys team is being led by ninth grader Jude Bailey,” said Dark. “He’s having another standout year and is always ready for more. Colson Stewart is my second-hand man and I can’t believe he’s a senior. I’ve coached him since elementary school.” Dark said it will be odd next year not seeing Stewart emerge from the woods at meets.
Dylan Seagraves adds senior leadership, having decided to give cross country a try this year.
He called his varsity girls “some of the hardest-working girls I’ve ever had.” Three are cheerleaders who pull double duty and practice his sport after their cheer sessions. Even after the run long road games this season, Dark said they would be out early Saturday, ready to run at meets.
“My girls are led by Caroline Barksdale and Ann Catherine Walker,” he said. “My JV kids are exciting to coach and watch. They are highly energetic and super talented. It is fun to watch these kids from such a small school race the big schools that have hundreds, even maybe a thousand, kids per grade to choose from.”
Dark is excited about his middle school teams.
“I’ve got a strong crop of eighth graders and I’ll be excited to move them up come region on both the girls and boys squads,” he said.
Both middle school teams were first at Thomas County Central, where they finished ahead of their hosts, Colquitt County and other schools.
The younger Panthers are led by Jase Hendricks, Ethan Reid, Preston Barksdale and the Hellman brothers, Joshua and Elijah.
The Lady Panthers have Kate Phillips and Lizzie Hendricks. “They seem unstoppable and I don’t think I’ve seen either of them get tired yet,” said Dark. “You could start them off with 200-300 runners and they’ll emerge at the first mile in the Top 10. They’re amazing.”
Anna Kate Branch and Ruthie Mobley also contribute. Like the varsity, many of his junior varsity girls are cheerleaders. Carmen Corkern, he said, cheers, runs for him and plays softball.