What to Know
- Coronado High School's boys basketball team played against the boys from Escondido's Orange Glen High School in the regional CIF championship on June 19, 2021
- Coronado beat Orange Glen 60-57 in the tense, close game at the Coronado High School gym
- After the game, those on the Coronado side threw tortillas at the athletes from Orange Glen -- a predominantly Latino team -- in an act of racism
The Coronado Unified School District Board has voted in favor of firing Coronado High's head basketball coach following an emergency, closed-session school board meeting after a tortilla-throwing incident at a CIF championship game against Orange Glen of Escondido over the weekend.
The closed-session meeting followed a lengthy public session that included comments from players, parents and community members. Since the incident, which spread on social media throughout the county and nation, community members have been waiting to hear what disciplinary action might be taken.
"This was a racial incident no matter how it was cut," community activist Yusef Miller told the board. "I don't care who stands there and says otherwise. I don't care if they are Black, white or Latino. I don't care what race they are. This was wrong and unjust. I don't care where it comes from."
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The vote to fire Coronado head coach J.D. Laaperi was the first action — decided by a unanimous vote — and more could follow. As the public session closed, school board members said at least three more weeks would be needed to investigate the incident, which is also being investigated by the Coronado Police Department, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and the Escondido Union High School District (home of Orange Glen HS).
Coronado team captain Wayne McKinney spoke to the board and apologized to the Orange Glen players and community on behalf of his team.
"Throwing those tortillas at a predominantly Latino school doesn't look good but on my end, I do not believe we intended to make it about race. It was never about race," McKinney told NBC 7 after the meeting.
He also said his former coach didn't deserve to be fired for something he "had nothing to do with."
Orange Glen assistant coach Brian Gallo disagreed.
"I think with the actions of their staff that night and how they handled the entire situation, I think firing was the correct call," Gallo said.
Some parents accused the school board of rushing to judgment before having all of the facts.
"You had no right insinuating their guilt for something you had no idea about when you did it," one said.
"Why was there a rush? I don't understand. Why not ask for cooler heads in this situation? We need leaders with courage," another added.
The board did not take any action against Coronado players, but it was part of the closed-door discussion, according to the meeting agenda. The person who allegedly brought the tortillas has not been named by the board. The Coronado Police Department said Monday investigators know who brought the tortillas, and they, too, have declined to identify that person.
The Escondido Union High School District held a meeting of its own Tuesday and listened to feedback from community members.
"The disgusting events that took place over the weekend are not new, but rather a physical manifestation where we have had to endure racist words shouted to us during and after games. However, now there is proof, so the next actions taken will be indicative on how O.G. is valued," one student said.
Others called on the board to stand up for its students, and to put pressure on Coronado school officials to formally label the incident as racist and ensure history doesn't repeat itself.
The EUHSD board said it needs more time to gather all the information before taking any action, and said it is in contact with the CIF. The board is set to meet again Thursday to vote on a resolution denouncing racism, racial discrimination, and showing the district's support for equity, safety, and the well-being of students.
CAIR, BIPOC Educators Association, San Diego American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the North County Immigration Task Force (NCITF), and community members took part in the meeting in Escondido.
The Man Who Brought the Tortillas
On Wednesday, NBC 7 became aware that a person named Luke Serna had posted on a Coronado Happenings social-media site, claiming responsibility for bringing the tortillas to the game. Serna, who went to Coronado High School himself, posted, in part:
" ... the Orange Glen team approached the CHS team on the CHS side of the court with the intent of violence against Islander players, fans and anyone else celebrating the win. As the confrontation continued, several tortillas were thrown up into the air in the direction of the Orange Glen team. There was absolutely no racial intent behind that action. Any effort to claim that was the case is a complete and utter FALSEHOOD."
Serna also said in the post that "The tossing of tortillas is used as a celebratory action by the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at various sporting events including basketball and soccer."
People familiar with the practice of tortilla tossing at sporting events, however, say the intent is often to distract during games, not as a celebration after a victory, though a search of the Internet did turn up results describing people throwing tortillas after the Gauchos scored a goal.
At a news briefing outside Coronado High School on Tuesday, Enrique Morones of Gente Unida, a coalition of human rights groups, called the tortilla throwing "blatant racism and hate."
“We are not against the military, we are not against the white community," Morones said. "But we are against racism, and racism and hate exist in every community.”
After reaching Serna via text messaging on Wednesday, he declined to speak to NBC 7 on camera, but he did answer a pair of questions. First, he confirmed he had, in fact, brought the tortillas but said his reasoning had to do with a college tradition.
"Yes, I brought them to the game and distributed them to one bench player and to CHS cheerleaders to distribute as a celebratory action if the Islanders won, as is done at my alma mater UCSB," Serna texted.
Serna also confirmed to NBC 7 that he had been contacted by the Coronado Police Department as part of their investigation.
"Yes, that is me," Serna texted. "I had one call with the Coronado PD and they injected RACE into the call and said I could be charged with 'Inciting a Riot'. Not the best tactic to take if you're trying to investigate in my opinion."
Later in the day, Telemundo 20's Tania Luviano was able to contact Serna as well, who told her that he didn’t know the other team was Hispanic and again said he brought the tortillas after the tradition at UC Santa Barbara.
The Aftermath of the Tortilla Incident
As news of the tortilla-throwing incident continues to spread through San Diego County and online this week, four events were planned for Tuesday.
The North County Equity & Justice Coalition, Gente Unida and the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego held a news briefing at noon in front of Coronado High School on Coronado Island.
Dozens of parents and supporters and students showed up at the meeting holding signs in support of the Orange Glen community and against the acts at the basketball game.
"What happened should not be tolerated," said Mark Mader, the father of an Orange Glen player. "I see a sign back here, 'Strip them of their championship.' No, it's not the championship that needs to be stripped. We have to go directly to the coach and his staff. During the overtime one of the staff members ran across the court and ran right in front of us and tried to start a fight with a lot of the fans, and that is unacceptable, folks."
At the briefing, Enrique Morones of Gente Unida, a coalition of human rights groups, called the tortilla throwing "blatant racism and hate."
“We are not against the military, we are not against the white community," Morones said. "But we are against racism, and racism and hate exist in every community.”
He and his group called for several action items from the Coronado School Board and CIF, including private meetings with the school board, total transparency of their investigations, a public apology and a forfeit of the game.
The demands were met with cheers and applause from the crowd of supporters.
On top of that, Morones said Coronado schools and other districts should implement diversity training with volunteer organizations that can implement clear guidelines.
“We don’t want people to say ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know that throwing tortillas and yelling racist chants at Latino players was not a celebration.’ C’mon, c’mon," Morones said. "We’re not going to stand for this."
Some — who blame the coaching staff for escalating the incident with obscenities before the tortilla-throwing began — are asking for the termination of members of Coronado High School's coaching staff.
"I have three boys so I’ve probably been to like 500 games of basketball," said Andres Rivera, the father of an Orange Glen High School basketball player. "[Games] get heated, [Players] go at it during the game but after the game is done, they line up, they shake hands. 100% of the time, always. I have never seen something like what happened here.”
The Coronado Unified School Board has not yet addressed allegations against its coaching staff.
The Gente Unida coalition planned to have several members in attendance of the Coronado board meeting.
What Happened? Coronado Vs. Orange Glen and the Throwing of the Tortillas
On the evening of June 19, Coronado High School – a predominantly white high school on Coronado Island in San Diego County – played a CIF championship boys basketball game against Orange Glen High School – a predominantly Latino team from San Diego’s North County.
The high-stakes game was action-packed and close.
In the end, Coronado beat Orange Glen by 3 points, winning 60-57.
But what came next is what ended up stirring major controversy – and going viral on social media.
After the final buzzer, before the teams from each side shook hands in a post-game tradition, players from Coronado threw tortillas at the team from Escondido and – according to Orange Glen’s coaches – told them to get out of their gym.
“The [Coronado] head coach and the assistant coach came over to our bench and kind of said some words that were inappropriate and told us that we should take our kids and 'get the F out' because we were a bunch of losers,” Lizardo Reynoso, assistant coach for Orange Glen High School, told NBC 7 over the weekend.
Orange Glen head coach Chris Featherly said after that, he approached the coaches to express how inappropriate he thought the actions of the home team were.
“As we approached their bench, not physically, just kind of went over there with our choice of words, let them know how unclassy we felt that was and how disgusting, disrespectful it was to do that,” Featherly explained, “then, tortillas were being thrown in our direction. That’s beyond disrespect; you’re going beyond.”
“It’s racist and it was planned,” said Andres Rivera, father of an Orange Glen player.
“For it being my last game, I think it was pretty bad,” Orange Glen player Christian Martinez said. “You don't want to go down with an ‘L’ but also the extra stuff like the tortillas and all the smack talking with the coaches. That was really disrespectful.”
More than 80% of the Orange Glen High School student body are Latino. The majority of Coronado High School's student population is white.
The Buzz on Social Media
The tortilla-throwing incident caused a lot of commotion on social media, with many people saying the move was simply mean and uncalled for.
In a Twitter post, Coronado head coach J.D. Laaperi wrote, "Unfortunately a community member brought tortillas and distributed them which was unacceptable and racist in nature. I do not condone this behavior Coronado High School does not condone this behavior and is already taking appropriate action."
He did not address the allegations leveled against him.
She also tweeted that if this is truly a "teaching moment," there should also be "real consequences" for the teens who are nearly adults.
"This behavior is unacceptable and reprehensible," Vargas tweeted. "The adults in the room need to do better and teach their kids/athletes better."
Gonzalez is also part of the Latino Caucus, which called the tortilla-throwing incident an act of hate and called on "the CIF to take strong action to hold the responsible students and school accountable for these hateful, violating acts.”
San Diego County Supervisor Nora Vargas also hopped on Twitter to talk about the tortilla incident, responding to Gonzalez's tweet.
The Coronado Police Department posted a message on Facebook condemning the incident at the high school basketball game.
“We are extremely disturbed by the behavior of some of those attending last night’s basketball game. Their actions are completely unacceptable,” the Coronado Police Department’s Facebook post read, in part. “Coronado Unified School District has promised a full investigation into this incident.”
'It Hurts': Outage From the Community
News of what happened at the high school basketball game spread through San Diego County over the weekend and this week.
Many felt compelled to speak out about the incident, including a 12-year-old Coronado resident who staged a one-woman protest at Coronado High School on Monday.
"I just came from my physical therapy, but it bothered me enough to go home and make this sign," said the Coronado resident, who only wanted to be identified as Lelea.
Her sign read, "Shame on you Coronado HS racist basketball team."
Meanwhile, the incident is getting attention from national groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
LULAC's Vice President of Young Adults Andres Rodriguez said the incident wasn't a heat of the moment exchange. He said it was planned. And it was mean.
"This took preparation, this took actually getting people together to buy the tortillas, to distribute them, and pretty much in unison throwing them at the Latino players," Rodriguez said.
The Coronado Unified School District Governing Board addressed the incident in a letter to the Orange Glen community Monday afternoon, calling the acts "egregious, demeaning and disrespectful."
"We fully condemn the racism, classism, and colorism which fueled the actions of the perpetrators and fully support the statement by Superintendent Mueller released earlier this morning. On behalf of the CUSD School Board, we extend a full and formal apology to the Orange Glen High School athletes, known as the Patriots, as well as their peers, parents, teachers, and staff," the statement read, in part.
On Sunday, Coronado Unified High School's Superintendent released a statement about the incident. It reads, in part:
“Swift action will be taken to address all those involved, and they will be held accountable. it is our hope to create opportunities to dialogue with the orange glen community in an attempt to repair.”
CIF also released a statement, reading in part:
“The CIF prohibits discrimination or any acts that are disrespectful or demeaning toward a member school, student-athlete, or school community…Upon receipt and review of incident reports from both schools, the CIF will determine the appropriate next steps.”
The Sweetwater Union High School District said the act seemed intentional and vowed to take action of its own if it didn't feel Coronado's response was adequate.
"Should the Coronado Unified School District choose not to adequately address these concerns, the Sweetwater Union High School District will consider actions, such as canceling any future athletic contests against Coronado High School," a statement sent Tuesday read in part.
While the investigation is under way, parents, students and coaches hope the Coronado High School basketball team realizes that what they did was unacceptable.
“They’ve worked hard all year, and so has Coronado, and to be overshadowed by some stupidity, it hurts," said Reynoso.
Dr. Anne Staffieri, the superintendent of Schools from the Escondido Union High School District, released a message Tuesday about the incident, too, calling the behavior “ugly and unacceptable.”
Staffieri said the district has gotten many calls from community groups to facilitate “restorative meetings between the students” and, while she said those meetings are important and “must happen,” the district isn’t ready to have those just yet, as the investigation is ongoing.
“We are currently investigating the situation to gather all the facts and understand the sequence of events. After we have the facts and the full picture, it will be appropriate for the students to face one another, to confront, discuss and grow stronger through honest discussions and sincere apologies, and I am confident that both school districts will work to make this happen,” Staffieri’s statement read.
“Hard work and perseverance through a pandemic finally had two high school basketball teams facing off in the regional championship game. The student athletes were giving it their all on the court only to have what should have been a celebratory event devolve into an unthinkable experience. It should not have happened, but it did,” she continued. “Now, we must use this focused attention to make a few points clear to our Escondido school community in general and our students, specifically. We do not tolerate behavior that seeks to marginalize, diminish or devalue a person for any reason, including race, religion or gender identity.”
Staffieri said groups must work together to look “head-on at divisive behavior, call it out, and work to eliminate it.”
She said the Board of Education would discuss a resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting to “denounce racism, racial discrimination, and the district’s support for equity, safety, and well-being of all students.”
NBC 7 reached out to Coronado Unified School District regarding the basketball coach and assistant coach's alleged involvement in a verbal exchange before the tortillas were thrown. NBC 7 has not yet heard back from the district about that matter.
According to Coronado Police, the male adult who brought the tortillas has been identified but the rest of the incident remains under investigation.
The investigation is ongoing; anyone with information can reach out to the Coronado Police Department at (619) 522-7350.
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