Palo Verde High School canceled its varsity football season Friday due to a lack of participants, specifically upperclassmen with experience at the varsity level, according to head coach Mike Wells and assistant coach Keith Smith Sr.
Smith mentioned the Titans, in the Class 4A Gila region, had only two seniors, two juniors and four sophomores as part of a 31-man roster that showed up to practice this fall.
Wells added, “With only two seniors and a total of four players that have played high school football at any level we feel it is best for our program (to cancel the varsity schedule). Very difficult decision but the safety of our players is our highest priority.”
Smith stated 23 freshmen have practiced “of which about five have played football, so we will have a JV (junior varsity) team out of safety concerns.”
Palo Verde is coming off only playing three games last season because of COVID-19 protocols and the Titans finished 1-2. The pandemic is one factor for the declining number of participants at the school, which had an enrollment of 979 in 2018-19, the year before COVID-19 hit.
Wells, who played for Jeff Scurran at Sabino and was on Scurran’s staffs at Santa Rita and Catalina Foothills, is in his third season with the Titan program.
He and his assistants, including Smith, will remain at the school and coach the junior varsity program this season.
Smith said by coaching the JV team the Titans will “hopefully keep building for next year and etc.” The Titans begin their JV schedule on Sept. 9 at home against Pueblo.
In a 2019 interview with AllSportsTucson.com, Wells said he wanted to work toward improving Palo Verde’s program to benefit the surrounding community.
“When I was in junior high, I went to Fickett. I walked by Palo Verde every day on my way home to apartments on Golf Links,” Wells said. “I know about the neighborhood. I grew up in that area.
“We knew at Palo Verde the impact we could make in the students, in the community, in the surrounding neighborhoods. That’s one of the main reasons why I chose to try to get that job.”
With Palo Verde’s varsity schedule canceled, opponents are scrambling to fill that vacancy in their schedules.
Walden Grove coach Corey Noble, whose team was to play at Palo Verde on Sept. 3, will instead travel to Pusch Ridge that night. Kent Middleton’s Pusch Ridge team was originally scheduled to host Palo Verde on Oct. 1 and had an open date on Sept. 3.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District