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Coronado mayor demands apology from school district for tortilla-throwing incident response

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey described the actions as a "rush to judgment" by the CIF and school district which falsely characterized the team and the community.

CORONADO, Calif. — Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey called on the Coronado Unified School District's board to apologize for releasing a statement condemning the Coronado High School basketball team as being "fueled by racism, colorism and classism," following a tortilla-throwing incident after a championship game.

Following Coronado High School's 60-57 overtime victory in the boys' Division 4-A regional final some members of the crowd in Coronado gym on June 19 threw tortillas at the largely Latino Orange Glen players.

As a result, the California Interscholastic Federation vacated Coronado's championship.

Bailey described the actions as a "rush to judgment" by the CIF and school district which falsely characterized the team and the community.

"There's a big difference between unsportsmanlike conduct, unsportsmanlike conduct that is racially insensitive and a racially motivated act," Bailey said Wednesday at a news conference, where he was joined by dozens of Coronado parents.

"These are the same student-athletes that nominated two players on their team -- who are players that just happened to be Black and happened to be half-Black and half-Hispanic -- to represent them as their team captains."

Bailey described the school board's statement, which was released the day after the game, as premature.

“Before any facts actually came out, they condemned these actions as being racially motivated before a single player had even been interviewed. So that to me demonstrates that the investigation was obviously not comprehensive and it was not focused on obtaining the truth. It was focused on trying to get out ahead of a political narrative,” Bailey said.

Calls to the school district were not immediately returned.

Coronado Unified School District Superintendent Karl Mueller -- following his review of audio and video accounts of the incident -- said no evidence turned up requiring the school to forfeit the game.

In a three-page letter sent to CIF executive director Ron Nocetti, Mueller responded to calls by activists and others for Coronado to forfeit the game.

"In the first-person accounts, audio and video that we have reviewed to date, we have seen no evidence of antagonization by the players actions or behaviors that justify forfeiting the game," Mueller wrote.

"The young men on the court played hard, fairly and earned the championship win."

The CIF disagreed.

"After a thorough review and analysis of the incident following the conclusion of the Division 4-A regional basketball championship game between Coronado High School and Orange Glen High School, the CIF state executive director reiterates that discriminatory and racially insensitive behaviors toward an opponent contravene the principles of education-based athletics," a CIF statement reads.

"In this instance, there is no doubt the act of throwing tortillas at a predominately Latino team is unacceptable and warrants sanctions."

As a result, Coronado High School has been placed on probation through the end of the 2024 school year, the Islanders boys' basketball team will not host postseason contests at the section, regional or state levels through the 2023 school year and all other teams in the Coronado High School athletic program will not host postseason contests at the section, regional or state levels until all Coronado administrators, athletic director, coaches and players complete a sportsmanship workshop which includes a component of racial/cultural sensitivity training and completion of game management training for all Coronado High School administrators and athletic directors.

"While consequences are warranted for such an egregious action as throwing tortillas at a predominantly Latino team and the sanctions below are being levied on the athletic program at Coronado High School, we must all be aware that behavior does not normally change with sanctions alone," the CIF statement continued.

"The path towards real change comes with the development of empathy for those who are on the receiving end of this type of degrading and demeaning behavior, no matter the proffered intent of that behavior."

The administration of Coronado High has also been "strongly encouraged" to engage with the administration at Orange Glen High School to develop a positive relationship between the two school communities.

A Coronado alumnus, Luke Serna, said he brought the tortillas to the game and denied that the act had a racist component. He said he was evoking a tradition at UC Santa Barbara, which he also attended.

"The tossing of tortillas is used as a celebratory action by the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at various sporting events including basketball and soccer," Serna said.

The incident received national attention, with investigations being conducted and public meetings held by school district boards in San Diego County.

On Tuesday, the Coronado School Board voted 5-0 to appeal the CIFs sanctions against the team. School Board trustee, Stacy Keszei, said students shouldn’t be penalized for adults’ actions.

“This is based on adult bad behavior, bringing tortillas and coaching students, student-athletes, attendees and passing them out. Saying, 'when we win, we throw them up in celebration,'” Keszei said. 

After the incident, Coronado’s head basketball coach J.D. Laaperi was also fired. San Diego-based group, Coaches for Racial Equality, meets virtually every other Wednesday with coaches across the country. Founder, Jeff Harper Harris, said engaging the students is what’s important now.

“Did they understand what happened? They’re kids, it’s a mistake. We’ve all made those mistakes. I don’t think they should be penalized their whole lives behind it. But I definitely think there should be some type of dialogue to figure out why it happened and make sure it never happens again,” Harper Harris said. 

The board made its decision to appeal the sanctions in a closed-door meeting and everyone will now have to wait and see what the board does next. 

WATCH RELATED: CIF strips Coronado High School of championship title following tortilla-throwing incident


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