Students, families and athletes in Glendale and Peoria are grieving the loss of David “DJ” Ortiz, who died Dec. 12.
A beloved teacher at Heritage Elementary School and enthusiastic football coach at Centennial High School, he was 33.
At Heritage, the sports-loving Ortiz also coached girls basketball.
“Coach DJ” was a familiar presence at Centennial High School, where he coached the freshman football team and helped with the varsity team.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family,” a Centennial football tweet reads. “Always had a smile and positive approach to his coaching. He will be missed.”
Mark Ernster, athletic director of Peoria Unified School District, shared his condolences.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to Coach Ortiz’s family and those students and staff who had the benefit of working closely alongside him. We are grateful for the impact he left on our students and community through his contributions to the football program and are deeply saddened by his passing,” Ernster said.
Centennial coach Richard Taylor said “we’re all feeling very sad about this tragedy.
“Coach Oritz was a very pleasant, happy, encouraging coach,” Taylor said. “The kids were happy to be around him.”
Cynthia Mendoza is principal of Heritage Elementary School in Glendale, where Ortiz taught seventh and eighth graders social studies.
Though Ortiz was increasingly suffering from kidney problems that would claim his life, Mendoza said his death was shocking.
“We weren’t expecting it. We knew he was going through some health issues, but he fought it to the last,” she said.
Monday, Dec. 14, the principal and other staff members visited the late teacher’s classes to tell them in person about the death of Oritz.
“We are supporting our students,” Mendoza said, adding that a therapist was on campus to provide counseling.
“We let the students know they are going through a difficult time but remember the good things he brought to our campus. That we are here to support him and love him,” she said.
Many of his students “knew he was going through tough times” and that Ortiz was going through dialysis treatments.
But he continued to teach at the charter school a week before his death.
“He was so passionate,” Mendoza said. “Very loving, caring, passionate. Always with a smile to try to make everyone’s day, even though he was going through hard times.”
A memorial table in the teacher’s honor was set up for students to add cards and messages. And the school was planning a balloon release to honor Ortiz Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Mendoza will remember Ortiz as “Very enthusiastic, very loving and caring.
“We’re always going to remember that smile. He always walked around this campus with a smile,” she said.