CORONADO, Calif. — After over a week-long investigation into an incident many called racist, the California Interscholastic Federation has levied several sanctions against one of the schools involved. In a statement, the CIF called the act of throwing tortillas at a predominately Latino team - Orange Glen High School - "unacceptable" and issued seven sanctions against Coronado High School's basketball team stripping it of the championship title.
"Nothing can take away their accomplishments of this team year. There are a lot of teachable moments," said Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey.
Additional sanctions include putting the team on probation for the next three school years and disallowing the school to host postseason events for any of its athletic programs until steps are taken including racial/cultural sensitivity training as part of a sportsmanship workshop.
"How do we learn? How do we mend? How do we teach and find a solution so this doesn't happen again?" said Jeff Harper-Harris, Lincoln High School Men's Basketball coach and founder of Coaches for Equality.
On June 19, after Orange Glen's team lost, 60-57, to Coronado High in overtime, some members of the crowd threw tortillas at Orange Glen athletes. As footage of the incident made its way around social media there was controversy over the intention of the tortilla throwing and what should happen to those who participated.
Mayor Bailey also said not one player was questioned by the CIF. Coronado supporters such as former Coronado High School basketball player Paul Lull said there was not a thorough investigation. He recorded the game and caught the confrontation on camera after the win and had to intervene. Lull said he's been questioned by Orange Glen officials but not by the CIF.
"The community is proud. We are proud to be a part of the islander basketball nation. This was an injustice against our community and boys basketball," said Paul Lull, CHS Basketball alumnus.
The Coronado Unified School District board voted 5 - 0 during a meeting a few days after the incident to fire Coronado High School's head basketball coach JD Laaperi.
Coronado's team captain Wayne McKinney said at that meeting that none of the players had brought the tortillas, nor was there animosity of any kind toward the Orange Glen players.
"However, throwing the tortillas after the game was unsportsmanlike, and on behalf of the team we apologize for that act," McKinney said.
Last week, News 8 reported that a Coronado alumus, Luke Serna, admitted to bringing the tortillas to the game and denied that the act had a racist component. He claimed 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.
Coach Harper-Harris said it was a racist act.
"I'm going to keep asking is there tiers of racism? Because it was wrong," said Harper-Harris.
He started Coaches for Equality after George Floyd's death to help players, coaches, parents and students work towards equality.
Last month, the governing board, San Diego City Conference, suspended Cathedral Catholic High School's football coach for two games and put the team on a two-year probation and implemented a restorative education program after a player shared photos of a t-shirt "Catholic vs Convicts" before a game against Lincoln High, a predominately Black and Latino school.
Harper-Harris said he's been fielding questions from players on why the punishment was harsher against Coronado and not Cathedral Catholic.
"It has to be fair. If it's wrong for Coronado and they get it, it's wrong for Cathedral and they get it," said Harper-Harris.
The Coronado incident received national attention, with investigations being conducted and public meetings held by school district boards in San Diego County.
On Saturday, dozens of Orange Glen supporters marched along Orange Avenue in Coronado, some carrying a large Mexican flag. They decried what they saw as a racist act and called for the team to forfeit the game.
"The CIF State Executive Director reiterates that discriminatory and racially insensitive behaviors toward an opponent contravene the principles of education-based athletics," the organization's statement read in part.
Escondido Union High School District Superintendent Anne Staffieri, Ed.D. issued the following statement after the decision was announced:
"The CIF report of findings and sanctions issued by the state CIF executive director provides us with a foundation for finding closure and a path forward. We support the administration at Orange Glen High School engaging with the administration at Coronado High School to work toward a positive relationship between the two school communities. We continue to focus on the needs of our students’ as they heal from this experience. As always, as a district, we remain committed to our support for equity, safety, and the well-being of all students."
Coronado School District's Superintendent Karl Mueller issued the following statement following the decision:
"The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) issued its decision today regarding the recent Division Championship game, where a post-game incident involved tossing tortillas into the crowd and at players. The CIF decided to levy various sanctions against Coronado High School, including vacating the 2021 Southern California Boys Basketball Division 4-A Regional Championship. We are currently reviewing the decision and will evaluate a possible appeal. We have also retained an outside investigator to thoroughly review the incident, which will guide any additional corrective actions. Whatever actions we take to address this matter, this incident and the CIF decision have served as clear reminders of the importance of sportsmanship and respectful conduct toward one another."
Mueller had previously said the district would not require the school to forfeit its title saying both teams were out of line.
“They’re going to need to do more. Their head coach cannot be a sacrificial lamb,” Tasha Williamson, a local social justice activist, said at the protest held Saturday. “Racism should be called out by everybody, everywhere, anytime it shows up."
The sanctions issued to the school were based on investigations conducted by the local schools and school districts, the events depicted in the video evidence, and the CIF's own review, the organization said.
The sanctions include:
1. The 2021 Southern California Boys Basketball Division 4-A Regional Championship is vacated.
2. Coronado High School is on probation for the 2021-2022, 2022-2023, and 2023-2024 school years.
3. The Coronado High School boys basketball team will not host postseason contests at the Section, Regional, or State levels for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years.
4. All other teams in the Coronado High School athletic program will not host postseason contests at the Section, Regional, or State levels until numbers 5 and 6 below have been completed.
5. Completion of a sportsmanship workshop (to include a component of racial/cultural sensitivity training such as the NFHS Implicit Bias Course) for all Coronado High School administrators, athletic director(s), coaches, and student-athletes.
6. Completion of game management training for all Coronado High School administrators and athletic director(s).
7. The administration at Coronado High School is strongly encouraged to engage with the administration at Orange Glen High School to begin the process of developing a positive relationship between the two school communities.
Examples may include the following:
a.) The administrators at the two schools work cooperatively to provide the student-athletes at both schools with a restorative justice opportunity.
b.) The administrators at the two schools work with a community-based non-profit organization to conduct community service projects with their student-athletes and coaches.
"We must all be aware that behavior does not normally change with sanctions alone," the CIF's statement reads in part. "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."
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