Orange Glen HS Forgets CIF Championship Drama to Celebrate Basketball Program at End-of-Year Banquet

Orange Glen's basketball program forgot about the drama for one night as they celebrated the team's accomplishments at its end-of-the-year banquet

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While the Escondido Union High School District met in closed session Thursday night to discuss the tortilla-throwing incident that capped Orange Glen High School's loss to Coronado High School in the CIF Championship game last weekend, the basketball program was happy to forget about the drama for a couple of hours.

Opposite the meeting, and at a restaurant just down the street, Orange Glen's basketball program held its annual postseason banquet, an end-of-season get-together where parents and program volunteers are honored and students are given performance awards.

Some activists and community leaders who have spoken out in support of the program since last Saturday's incident were invited, but the incident was left at the door as coaches used the night only to celebrate the team's success.

Non-players who were honored included the team's broadcaster and a snack bar worker who continued to support the team even after her job was taken by the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan shares an apology from the man who brought tortillas to the game, and has the latest on the investigation of the incident.

Over at the meeting, the district adopted a resolution denouncing racism and racial discrimination, and to affirm the district's support equity, safety and well-being of all students.

Some in attendance, which included students, parents, teachers and alumni, reacted to an apology shared Thursday morning by Luke Serna, the Coronado High alum who said he brought the tortillas to the game to be used as celebratory props.

"The intent of the perpetrator now isn't really what matters, it's the impact on the people who were on the receiving end of the gesture," Orange Glen history teacher William Turek said.

It is unclear what action, if any, will be taken against Serna by either school district or the Coronado Police Department. Serna said CPD told him he could be charged with inciting a riot.

Action has already been taken against Coronado's head coach J.D. Laaperi. The Coronado Unified School District Board on Tuesday night voted unanimously in an emergency, closed-door session to fire the basketball coach.

An Orange Glen graduate at Thursday's meeting was satisfied with the decision, but hopes it isn't the end of the conversation.

"Addressing his particular behavior is fantastic, but I don't think it does enough to solve these problems which are clearly much deeper rooted," the former student said.

The Coronado school board said following Tuesday's emergency meeting that it could take three more weeks or more to investigate the incident. Meanwhile, a large part of the community is waiting patiently to see what is done next and calls for action grow louder by the day.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan heard from the Coronado High School alum who said he brought tortillas to the game so they could be used in celebration.

On Thursday, California Sen. Ben Hueso sent a letter to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to revoke Coronado High School's basketball championship status, joining other community members and leaders who want action against the school.

"This intentional act was designed to be racist and should not now, nor ever, be tolerated," Hueso's letter read. "Failure to impose swift and appropriate justice will become a tacit endorsement of the act itself by the CIF and violate CIF's own principals [sic] of ethical character building for student athletes."

He went on to say, without action, the incident will be embedded into the young athletes affected and result in long-term consequences. By taking action, it will show support for the Orange Glen students and others like them.

The CIF confirmed Thursday they were reviewing the incident and would have a decision in the following week.

"The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) fully appreciates the importance of this matter and the concerns involved. As previously stated, the CIF’s review process includes allowing each member high school and/or school district the opportunity to conduct an investigation into the incident and then provide the CIF with the results of their internal review. Upon receipt and review of the schools’ and/or school districts’ information, and further inquiry from this office if needed, the CIF will then determine what action is appropriate. The CIF is in the process of concluding our review, and unless circumstances dictate otherwise, we anticipate issuing the ruling of the CIF Executive Director during the upcoming week."

Saturday's already tense game between the top-tier high school teams quickly shifted focus from celebration (Coronado High School beating out Orange Glen by just two points in overtime) to outrage when an alleged outburst from Coronado's head coach, according to Orange Glen staff, was followed with tortillas flying through the air.

NBC 7's Dave Summers heard reaction from players, adults and leaders from both communities.

Orange Glen's coach and assistance coach said it started after the final buzzer as teams were waiting to shake hands in a post-game tradition.

“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."

Rachel Ricker, a CHS alumna and San Diego High School teacher, said the Coronado school board made the right decision in firing Laaperi.

"As a teacher, the first thing we teach is to have a strong character, to be kind," Ricker said. "This was a red flag and shows we need higher standards for character."

Coronado High School's basketball team took the win on Saturday night, but instead of celebrating in good fashion, the team turned their win into what is now being called an act of racism, reports NBC 7's Melissa Adan.

"We have a lot of work to do to restore our reputation here," she added.

Anger spread through the local community and on social media, with local human rights groups and politicians calling the incident reprehensible and an act of hate.

A group of activists called for several action items to be taken against Coronado High School and participants in the act, including private meetings with the school board, total transparency of their investigations, a public apology and a forfeit of the game. The group also called for more diversity training in schools. At the forefront of the calls was Enrique Morones of Gente Unida.

"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."

Chris Kelly, a CHS parent who is involved with an organization that sheds light on racial inequities and lack of racial education in the Coronado Unified School District, said whether or not the incident should be labeled as racist is up to the Orange Glen community, and only them.

"If tortillas were thrown at a Hispanic community and they felt it was racist, then it was racist. It's not for us to decide, it's not for us to decide how another race should feel," Kelly said.

The Coronado High School alum who brought the tortillas to the game, Luke Serna, told NBC 7 that racism was not his intent.

"I realize the tortilla throwing has been perceived as racially insensitive. I do not condone racially insensitive behavior, and that was not my intent. I apologize to all who were hurt by this and hope it can be a teaching moment for us all to become more conscious,” Serna wrote in a statement to NBC 7.

He had previously explained in a post that he didn't know the other team was majority Latino and that the tossing of tortillas was meant as a celebration.

"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.

A post on the UCSB alumna website says the action was a tradition as school sporting events like basketball and soccer and has been banned after several incidents, including calls that the tradition was racist.

It's unknown at this time if any of the players or cheerleaders will face disciplinary action in the wake of the incident. It's also not yet known if critics' calls to forfeit the game will be answered.

As the public session of the Coronado School Board closed on Tuesday night, 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 CIF and the Escondido Union High School District.

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