By Sandra G. Leon
A racially-charged incident after a high school basketball championship game continues to create backlash of protests and condemnation after Coronado High School players and supporters tossed tortillas at players from Escondido’s Orange Glen High School.
The incident happened after the June 19th game between Coronado and Orange Glen High School where they competed for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) regional championship. The two teams had faced off just two weeks earlier for the local championship game where Coronado won.
After the June 19th game, a few Coronado supporters and at least one Coronado basketball player tossed corn tortillas at the Orange Glen players as the two teams confronted each other near Coronado’s team bench. The incident was caught on video and shared online within minutes of the incident.
Coronado’s School Board took up the issue at a special meeting on June 22nd and voted unanimously to fire the boys’ basketball coach, JD Laaperi. The coach had been accused of using disrespectful language toward the OGHS team after the game which may have led to a heated interaction between the teams.
“That’s why you don’t talk shit. Get your kids and get the fuck out of here,” Laaperi was quoted as saying.
After the Board meeting, community members on both sides of the issue continued to debate whether the incident was racially motivated. Studebts and parents from Orange Glen maintained that , regardless ofthe intentions, the act seemed racially-motivated.
Orange Glen’s student population is over 81% Latino, so throwing tortillas seemed to be racially motivated, but now the person that claims to have purchased and handed out the tortillas has come forward to explain his side of the story.
Luke Serna, a 40-year-old resident of Coronado, graduated from Coronado High School in 1999, the same year as Coach Laaperi. Serna graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2004, where students used to throw tortillas on the soccer field after each goal back in the 1990s.
“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 said in an interview with The Coronado Times.
Serna says he is “half Mexican” and wrote in a letter to the San Diego Union-Tribune that those “who have inflamed this issue into a racially charged issue should be utterly ASHAMED of themselves.”
In response to the controversy, the Escondido Union High School District Board that governs Orange Glen High School last week unanimously passed a resolution denouncing racism and racial discrimination.
The resolution affirms the District’s support for equity, safety, and the well-being of all students, and pledges to fight racism in all forms, to dismantle practices that limit opportunities for students to receive a safe and high-quality education.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) is reviewing the incident and considering what actions it may take which could include revoking Coronado’s championship title.