SD County Human Relations Commission Looks to Youth For Answers in Wake of Tortilla-Throwing Incident

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In the wake of the tortilla-throwing incident following Coronado and Orange Glen high schools' CIF Championship basketball game two weekends ago, the San Diego County Human Relations Commission (HRC) voted unanimously Monday to form a Youth Advisory Board that could help bridge the gap, kid-to-kid in the youth community.

"Our young people know what the deal is and what's happening, and they also have incredible solutions on anti-hate or anti-racism," Ellen Nash, Chair of the HRC said.

The HRC thinks creating a youth board is the first step in bringing young people to the table to lead the charge in eliminated school-to-school or student-to-student prejudice and increasing cultural sensitivity.

Community activists and others have called for Coronado to forfeit the game, but the district has announced they don't plan to do so. NBC 7's Amber Frias has more.

The group would be made up of students from schools across the county who would collaborate with other youth groups to tackle division.

"What happened inside the gymnasium was a disgrace, embarrassing," Coronado parent Chuck Gossage said. "Frankly, the idea of student leadership, well-represented from all the schools in the San Diego area, I think it's a fabulous idea. Taking away the adult perspective where some of us are potentially jaded over the years, and are really dug into our positions."

The tortilla throwing overshadowed a hard-fought game against the two schools on June 19, and shined a spotlight on the mostly white upscale island community of Coronado and Orange Glen High School of Escondido, of which around 80% of its student body is Latino.

In a letter to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), Coronado's schools boss said the district's probe of a tortilla-throwing incident following a championship game last weekend had not turned up any evidence that would require Coronado's High to forfeit the game. NBC 7's Amber Frias has more.

A Coronado alum said he brought the tortillas to the game so they could be used as a celebratory prop, but tension between the two sidelines boiled over and the tortillas made it into the hands of at least two Coronado High School players who hurled them in Orange Glen's direction.

The HRC also voted to send a letter to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) demanding accountability and transparency. It expects the letter to go out in the next week. As for the youth advisory board, commission members said it could take months to form.

The CIF is still investigating the incident and said a decision could come as soon as this week.

Over the weekend, the Coronado Unified School District board told the CIF it found no evidence warranting forfeiture of the championship.

The three-page letter from Coronado Unified School District superintendent Karl J. Mueller to CIF executive director Ron Nocetti followed calls from community activists and others for Coronado to forfeit the game, either voluntarily or by having it stripped by the CIF.

In the conclusion to the letter, Mueller writes that "we have seen no evidence of antagonization by the players actions or behaviors that justify forfeiting the game. The young men on the court played hard, fairly, and earned the championship win."

A few days after the incident, the school board voted unanimously to fire then head coach J.D. Laaperi.

The Escondido Union High School District, home to Orange Glen, met last week and adopted a resolution denouncing racism and racial discrimination, and affirming the district's support equity, safety and well-being of all students.

More on the Incident

After the final buzzer but before the teams from each side shook hands in a post-game tradition, people on the Coronado side threw tortillas at the team from Escondido and – according to Orange Glen’s coaches – told them to get out of their gym.

There was a squabble between coaching staff from both schools. Video widely shared on social media showed at least two Coronado students throwing tortillas into the air toward the other team.

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.

The Coronado school board's letter to the CIF stated that its investigation of the incident turned up evidence that showed there was regrettable behavior by both sides.

Mueller said CUSD has no "agenda" and wrote that, "according to multiple witness accounts, audio-video coverage, and personal statements from those involved," it's the district's understanding that "Numerous statements reference the actions of people representing both schools as contributing to somewhat of a 'powder keg' atmosphere." Mueller added that "there are allegations of inappropriate language from CHS and OGHS fans, coaches, and players which vary in who 'started it' or was 'worse' in these interactions."

Both groups behaved in ways that are not consistent with the CIF's code of ethics, the Coronado district's investigation determined, with the letter stating that the tortillas were thrown after "adults around the scorers' table, representing both OGHS and CHS, escalated tensions by using profanities and insults instead of modeling good sportsmanship."

Mueller went on to write that the throwing of the tortillas "caused offense and subjected our guests and Coronado residents present to feelings related to discrimination" and that the honorable thing to do following such an incident is to apologize, which he does: "I was and am deeply sorry."

Mueller said the disitrct was working to organize time for the two teams to come together and "reconcile through a lens of understanding."

"We will be a better and stronger school community through our willingness to reflect and grow with humility," he said.

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

Laaperi said on social media before his firing that a community member brought the tortillas to the game and that the incident was “unacceptable and racist in nature” and he did not condone it.

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.

NBC 7 learned that a Coronado alum, Luke Serna, announced that he had brought the tortillas to the game and denied that doing so had a racist component. He maintained that he was evoking a tradition at UC Santa Barbara, which he also attended. 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 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos scored a goal.

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