Palo Verde & Benson football programs win appeal to move from 3A to 2A in 2023

Benson’s football program was a power at the 2A level before moving to the 3A South last year. After an appeal Monday to the AIA, Benson will return to the 2A in 2023 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

After one year in the 3A South, the Palo Verde and Benson football programs will move to the 2A conference in 2023, Sahuarita and Rio Rico will stay in the 4A and Ironwood Ridge will remain at the 5A level.

Those five local schools appealed Monday their original placement that was made in December by the AIA.

Palo Verde, Benson and Sahuarita were granted their appeals Monday, while Rio Rico and Ironwood Ridge were denied.

The granted appeals:

— Palo Verde from 3A to 2A. The AIA in December kept Palo Verde at the 3A level. The Titans, who went 2-8 last season and are strapped by annual participation rates, appealed to move to the 2A level. 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 from 3A to 2A. The Bobcats remained at the 3A level by the AIA in December. The Bobcats appealed to return to the 2A level, where they were at before last season. The Bobcats won their appeal based on the level of competition. Benson went 5-6 and advanced to the 3A playoffs last year, but they struggled mightily in the 3A South going 1-4 and getting outscored 227-76. They lost most of their starters from the previous season but the AIA understood the school’s argument about competition.

— Sahuarita remaining at 4A. Sahuarita was moved from 4A to 3A in December’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).

The denials:

— Rio Rico denied going from 4A to 3A. Rio Rico remained at the 4A level by the AIA in December. Jeff Scurran’s program wanted to be placed at the 3A level for level of competition reasons. The AIA denied the appeal knowing that the Hawks finished a respectable 4-6 in 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 denied going from 5A to 4A. The Nighthawks remained at the 5A level by the AIA in December. The Nighthawks appealed 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. The AIA denied the appeal based on enrollment and Ironwood Ridge being competitive with state-playoff appearances before last season.

Regional alignments will be posted by conference officials by next Tuesday. 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 scheduled to be posted March 16.

Schools that were reclassified last month by the AIA and did not appeal were 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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