Five Southern Arizona schools make appeal to AIA for 2023 football conference alignment

Palo Verde, with first-year coach Jamal Chatman, finished 2-8 last season at the 3A level. The Titans are appealing the AIA to move to the 2A level for the 2023 season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Sahuarita, Palo Verde, Benson, Rio Rico and Ironwood Ridge have made an indication they will appeal to the AIA for reclassification after the governing body made its initial announcement last month of their conference placement for the 2023 season.

Schools in the state had until Thursday to appeal their football conference placement to the AIA executive board.

An AIA executive board meeting Jan. 17 will be held to hear the appeals and finalize the football conferences.

Regional alignments are then posted by conference officials by Jan. 24. Schools can then appeal region placement by Feb. 7. The AIA executive board then meets Feb. 21 to hear those appeals and finalize the regions.

Conference committees then meet from Feb. 22 to March 10 to generate schedules.

The 2023 schedules are posted March 16.

Here’s a look at each Southern Arizona school making an appeal of conference placement (please note that the AIA does not only consider enrollment but also competitive level and roster size):

— Sahuarita was moved from 4A to 3A in last month’s AIA placement after finishing 0-10 at the 4A level in the 2022 season. The Mustangs were at the 3A level before last season and were moved to 4A after an appeal by the school last year. School officials and coaches have expressed a desire to remain in 4A because of the amount of far travel from Sahuarita in the 3A South with schools at Thatcher, Safford, Oro Valley (Pusch Ridge) and Tanque Verde area (Sabino).

— Palo Verde remained at the 3A level by the AIA last month. The Titans, who went 2-8 last season and are strapped by annual participation rates, are appealing to move to the 2A level in 2023. Their varsity program was canceled in 2021 because of a lack of healthy and eligible players. Palo Verde was at the 4A level in 2021 and was moved to 3A last season.

— Benson remained at the 3A level by the AIA last month. The Bobcats want to return to the 2A level, where they were at before last season. The Bobcats might find their appeal to return to 2A difficult inasmuch as they qualified for the 3A state playoffs in 2022 and finished 5-6.

— Rio Rico remained at the 4A level by the AIA last month. Jeff Scurran’s program wants to be placed at the 3A level. The Hawks finished 4-6 in 2022 — Scurran’s first season with the program — after losing nine consecutive games dating to the 2020 season upon his arrival. Rio Rico also lost three games by a touchdown or less last season.

— Ironwood Ridge remained at the 5A level by the AIA last month. The Nighthawks want to be reclassified to 4A after finishing 1-9 in 2022 under first-year coach Dale Stott, who took over a program that was in a major overhaul situation. They lost nearly every starter and almost 30 players from the previous season.

Schools that were reclassified last month by the AIA and are not appealing are Cholla and Rincon/University from 5A to 4A.

The TUSD schools have struggled with participation rates and eligibility concerns mightily in recent years and being classified down one level is welcomed.

Cholla was 2-8 and Rincon/University 1-9 last season.

Classification for schools at 1A (eight-man football) is still under discussion with the possibility still existing that TUSD schools Santa Rita and Catalina could join that level.

Santa Rita had to cancel its operations midway through the 2022 season because of a lack of eligible and healthy players and Catalina finished 1-9 with the lone win a forfeit over Santa Rita.


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.

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