SHS football (copy)

The Sahuarita Mustangs take on Sabino High School on Oct. 29.

Sahuarita High School is among 26 schools to submit an appeal to the Arizona Interscholastic Association over its conference placement in football for the 2022-23 school year.

SHS is requesting to be moved from the 3A South conference to the more competitive 4A Gila. They are among three schools seeking to go up a level; 23 schools are appealing to go down a level.

SHS Athletic Director Chip Stratton said football is taken out of the conference placement system and treated separately by the AIA, the agency that oversees high school sports.

“This is done to help create more competitive games because schools are placed by win-loss records rather than school size,” Stratton said. “This being said, because of our past football records we are placed in the 3A conference, specifically in the 3A South conference with Sabino, Safford, Thatcher and Pusch Ridge despite the fact that we have approximately 1,075 (4A enrollment number) students enrolled.”

“Needless to say, it's a very competitive region that we struggle with annually.”

Stratton said all the school’s other team sports are in the 4A Gila conference with Rio Rico, Amphitheater, Douglas, Walden Grove (4A Kino for football) and Mica Mountain.

Stratton said they want football to be competitive, and that 4A Gila has proven to be more competitive for SHS when it comes to their other sports like volleyball and soccer.

“When looking at these schools in 4A Gila we feel that for football we pair well with these schools competition-wise, size-wise, demographically and location-wise,” he said. “Granted, statewide 4A football is very strong and other teams outside of 4A Gila would be tough games for us currently, but in the long run we hope to become more competitive overall."

"For now, we feel that we could compete for region titles in the very near future.”

 SHS went 1-8 in the 2021 season but Stratton said they are ready for 4A Gila.

“When we do happen to play teams like Rio Rico, Amphi, Palo Verde, Empire and other 4A public schools the games are competitive and we can go into each game feeling we are competing against similarly talented schools,” he said. “I think the talent gap between traditionally strong football schools and other schools has increased.”

“As long as players have a choice of where they can play football, they are going to choose the traditionally strong schools keeping their numbers high while other schools struggle to find the numbers to compete or even field a team.”

It happened to a 4A Gila school. Palo Verde Magnet canceled its varsity season in August  due to a lack of players.

Stratton said placement into 4A Gila would also limit travel time and keep students in class longer, as well as spark good regional competition.

“I think the potential for developing rivalries with teams in the I-19 corridor like Rio Rico, Pueblo, Nogales and Walden is a big deal,” he added.

He said that though WGHS is in 4A Kino for football and SHS is trying to get into 4A Gila they have requested to play them on the scheduling survey they submitted to the committee.

Stratton arrived at SHS six years ago, and said the last game between the two high schools was in 2015 or 2016. Should the appeal and request to play WGHS be approved, fans could expect to see the hometown teams play each other every year.

The AIA's executive board will hear SHS and the other school’s appeals and make rulings at its next meeting Jan. 18.

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 


Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.

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