Oliver Fell
ASU Student Journalist

State clearance complications delays Sierra Linda assistant coach's arrival

December 1, 2023 by Oliver Fell, Arizona State University

Sierra Linda Bulldogs head coach Diana DeJesus converses with her offensive players September 12 in Tempe. (Photo by Oliver Fell/AZPreps365)

Oliver Fell is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Sierra Linda High School for AZPreps365.com

This fall was the first season flag football was officially sanctioned by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, opening the door for prospective players and coaches to be the new sport’s trailblazers.

Sierra Linda High School in southwest Phoenix was one of the 57 high schools that participated in the inaugural season and provided a chance for two coaches’ dreams to come true. However, state laws complicated matters, resulting in head coach Diana DeJesus being without her assistant coach for the first four games of the season.

AIA regulations did not allow for Sierra Linda to begin recruiting or practice until school had begun August 3. DeJesus, a former flag football player who sees the sport as a “passion” of hers, was easily cleared because she also coaches Sierra Linda’s varsity softball team in the spring. Prospective assistant coach Ruben Enriquez, however, had more difficulty obtaining his clearance.

Under Title 15, chapter 512 of the Arizona State Statutes, high schools are required to obtain “a valid fingerprint clearance card” of each prospective non-teacher who will provide services directly to pupils. This statute is put in place to protect children from bad actors in high school programs and activities.

This process can be lengthy, however. When Enriquez’s application for his fingerprint clearance card was returned, a misdemeanor offense from over 20 years ago interfered with his clearance. The statute’s subsection E allows for appeals on crimes committed more than 10 years ago through a governing board. Enriquez was  eventually granted his fingerprint clearance card and begin coaching, but this was after four of the 10 games in the season were already played.

With 23 girls on the roster, DeJesus noted that it was “very difficult to coach both offense and defense” by herself. She managed to enlist the help of her softball assistant coach, Daniel Ramirez, for the games in which Enriquez was still awaiting clearance, which made things manageable but still not ideal.

Enriquez, who is also the father of senior quarterback Mae Enriquez, said this time waiting and sitting in the stands was difficult.

“Almost like watching your child fall down but you are unable to come to the rescue,” he said.

Sierra Linda head coach Diana DeJesus and volunteer assistant coach Daniel Ramirez talk to the offense and defense pregame September 12th in Tempe (Oliver Fell/AZPreps365)Sierra Linda head coach Diana DeJesus and volunteer assistant coach Daniel Ramirez talk to the offense and defense pregame September 12 in Tempe. (Oliver Fell/AZPreps365)Once Enriquez was cleared, he noted that the then 1-3 team, was “definitely behind the rest of the season because of my absence.”

“Coaching a high school football team is tough to do alone,” he said. “But coach [DeJesus] did the best she could.”

The team went 3-3 once Enriquez arrived and finished with a respectable 4-6 record and a fourth-place finish in the 5A Central region in its inaugural season.

DeJesus said she was impressed by the turnout of girls who tried out for the team, with 54 girls trying out for 23 spots. She said the opening season, “went better than I anticipated.”

Ultimately Enriquez said he understands the reason for the clearance process, saying it was “pretty obvious that the clearance process is for the safety of the student athletes.”

“It was annoying, but it’s good to know not just anyone can be allowed around our kids,” he said.

Sierra Linda Bulldogs quarterback Mae Enriquez directs traffic versus the Tempe Buffaloes September 12th in Tempe (Oliver Fell, AZPreps365)Sierra Linda Bulldogs quarterback Mae Enriquez directs traffic versus the Tempe Buffaloes September 12 in Tempe. (Photo by Oliver Fell, AZPreps365)As for the experience, Enriquez got all he could bargain.

“Coaching this season was challenging, since I never coached high school kids, but so rewarding,” said Enriquez, who coached his daughter in baseball and football since she was 7 years old, but stopped when she began high school. “Also being able to be on the field with my daughter was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Enriquez said he plans to return to coach the flag football team for as long as the school will have him.

And as for the fingerprint clearance card issue, DeJesus said it, “shouldn’t be an issue next year.”