Palmer Ridge High School has won the last two Class 3A state football championships and seems to have all the key ingredients to compete for another one this fall. But beginning in 2020, the Bears will have to set their sites on a different prize when they move up to 4A.
The Colorado High School Activities Association recently came up with a fresh alignment for the next two-year cycle that vaults the Bears to the 4A Southern 1 Conference. The league includes familiar foes Air Academy and Vista Ridge, as well as Montrose, Ponderosa and Heritage.
“There’s a lot of good football in 3A and there’s a lot of good football in 4A,” said Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford. “We know that we’ve got our work cut out for us regardless of what classification we’re in and regardless of what league we’re in. We know that our kids have to work hard and they need to perform at a high level of effort and a high level of execution for us to be successful.”
The CHSAA board of directors approved a new football alignment based on several criteria, including enrollment numbers, competitive balance within each conference, geography, risk minimization, success/non-success, and school participation percentage.
Palmer Ridge competed in 4A from 2012-15. It compiled a combined 21-21 record. The Bears made the postseason in 2015, losing in the quarterfinals at home to eventual state champion Windsor.
Palmer Ridge has made the playoffs five times as a 3A school (2010, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018). Pulford has been a part of every Palmer Ridge team since the program began in 2008 as an assistant and head coach.
“The more I do this job the more I realize I need to put my effort into the things I am in control of, and the things I’m not in control of I just need to let that be,” Pulford said. “I need to help the kids we perform at the highest level they can achieve and help them reach their full potential.”
The three other Tri-Lakes area football programs will not be affected by reclassification. Lewis-Palmer and Discovery Canyon will remain in 3A, while The Classical Academy will stay in 2A.
Lewis-Palmer will play in the North West League with Conifer, Evergreen, Green Mountain, Littleton and Lutheran.
Discovery Canyon will play in the 3A Southern I league with Durango, Harrison, Mitchell, Sand Creek and Sierra.
TCA will play in the Tri-Peaks League with La Junta, Lamar, Woodland Park and Manitou Springs.
Palmer Ridge, Lewis-Palmer and Discovery Canyon will all play in the 3A Central Conference this fall. Palmer Ridge and Lewis-Palmer will square off for the General Palmer Cup Nov. 1 at Don Breese Stadium.
Palmer Ridge has a key non-league game against 4A state power Pine Creek Oct. 5 at Don Breese Stadium. Pine Creek is moving to a 5A conference in 2020, but will be a 4A team for postseason purposes.