Santa Rita will not field a varsity football team in 2023, to play JV schedule

Santa Rita High School will not field a varsity football team in 2023 but still plans to have a junior varsity team compete that will be comprised of underclassmen.

The move was made primarily for safety reasons because of a lack of upperclassmen on the roster.

“We put different options on the table, to make sure that we thought everything through clearly,” said new football coach Douglas Smith. “It wasn’t just something that we put together haphazardly. We put a lot of research into our thought process, about how can we best serve the kids at Santa Rita.”

Word started to circulate Wednesday on Twitter concerning high school football coaches filling the void in the schedule with Santa Rita because of the Eagles not having a varsity team this fall.

Palo Verde assistant coach Keith Smith and Bisbee head coach Shawn Holley mentioned they were contacted about the situation.

Bisbee was slated to host Santa Rita in the regular-season finale Oct. 27. Santa Rita was scheduled to play at Palo Verde on Sept. 22.

Keith Smith stated he is attempting to schedule Globe, which was supposed to host Santa Rita in its season opener Aug. 25.

Douglas Smith, a former defensive coordinator at El Mirage Dysart High School, will continue to lead the program when the Eagles play their junior varsity schedule in the fall.

He moved to Tucson from Phoenix two months ago and is presently serving as a summer-school teacher at Santa Rita.

“I’ve never probably been a part of a completely committed administration like I have at Santa Rita High School,” Douglas Smith said. “That’s not a concern at all. Every day, I wake up and I look in the mirror and I smile and I say, ‘I’m the head football coach at Santa Rita High School, and I go to work, and I grind it out and I’m happy to be there.

“I couldn’t be more ecstatic with the small wins that we get every day.”

Santa Rita, victimized by dwindling enrollment rates over the last 10 years, was forced to cancel its season after five games last year due to a lack of healthy and eligible players.

The Tucson Unified School District school was 0-5 at the time with its three previous games recorded as forfeits because of a lack of participants.

The Eagles’ first two games against Globe (40-0 loss) and Heritage Academy Laveen (35-0 defeat) were stopped before the end of regulation. The Globe game finished early because Santa Rita did not have enough players to compete. The Heritage Academy game was stopped because of lightning.

Palo Verde endured a similar situation as Santa Rita in 2021 coming off the COVID-19-impacted season of 2020.

The Titans canceled their varsity season for safety reasons because of a lack of upperclassmen among the approximately 20 players who showed up to fall camp.

Palo Verde went from 4A to 3A last season and resumed a varsity schedule. The Titans participated in every game scheduled and went 2-8 with wins over a 1-9 Catalina team (60-0 score) and Santa Rita (by forfeit).

Palo Verde is now at the 2A level, competing in the San Pedro Region with Catalina, Benson, Bisbee, Tombstone, Willcox and Tanque Verde. When Santa Rita resumes varsity play in 2024, it will be part of this region.

Douglas Smith is keeping a positive outlook on the Eagles’ situation, similar to how Jamal Chatman at Palo Verde was instrumental in building a belief system at that school after the Titans cancelled their varsity season in 2021.

“Listen, I love Santa Rita High School, and the feeling is mutual,” Douglas Smith said. “I got this home out here now and I love Tucson. I’m born and raised in Phoenix. I’ve been to Tucson, but I’ve never lived out here.

“Let me tell you, I’m loving it. I’m just loving it. I’m loving it every day of my life. Right now, I’m living my dream. I’m going to be at Santa Rita for as long as they have me, and I want to make sure they get everything that they want to get out of their program.”


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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