Coronado school board fires head basketball coach over tortilla incident

Andres Rivera spoke with protesters at Coronado High School.
Andres Rivera, a father of an Orange Glen High basketball player, spoke at a rally in front of Coronado High School Tuesday evening, discussing what many say was a racist incident at the Orange Glen and Coronado High basketball game Saturday. Coronado students threw tortillas at members of the Orange Glen team. Orange Glen has many Latino students on its team.
(Ariana Drehsler / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Coronado Unified School Board voted unanimously to fire their head basketball coach Tuesday night, days after someone threw tortillas at an opposing team Saturday night.

The board members took the vote behind closed doors and did not comment further. During closed session the board discussed but did not take action on student discipline.

Calls for the punishment of those involved in the tortilla throwing incident crescendoed throughout the day Tuesday.

After a Saturday night division championship game between Coronado High and Orange Glen High, a high school in Escondido, at least two people threw tortillas at the Orange Glen team.


Some people have said it was a racist incident, considering Orange Glen is a predominantly Latino school.

But others say it is too soon to jump to conclusions and the incident may not have been racist.

The Coronado school board held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the aftermath of the Saturday game that ended in the altercation.

According to witnesses, Coronado head basketball coach JD Laaperi allegedly cursed at an Orange Glen coach after the game, saying “That’s why you don’t talk (expletive). Get your kids and get the (expletive) out of here.”

That’s when, according to video footage circulated on social media, at least two Coronado players flung tortillas into the air toward the Orange Glen team.

Coronado Unified School District, Escondido Union High School District, Coronado police and the California Interscholastic Federation are all conducting investigations of the incident. The behavior of members of the Coronado and Orange Glen teams are under investigation, officials said.

A growing list of organizations and advocates are calling the tortilla tossing racist, including Gente Unida, the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, Latino American Political Association, Chicano Federation, La Raza Lawyers, North County Equity and Justice Coalition, NAACP San Diego, CAIR-San Diego, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

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Sweetwater Union High School District, a majority-Latino school district that was not involved with the tortilla incident, also weighed in Monday with a statement saying the tortilla throwing was a “hateful act” that “seems intentional.”

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon in front of Coronado High, several community members called for the firing of Laaperi, whom they blamed for starting the chaos on Saturday.


Laaperi has said the school district has asked him not to speak to the media about the incident.

In a tweet Sunday, Laaperi said it was a community member who “unfortunately” brought tortillas to the game, which Laaperi said was “unacceptable and racist in nature.”

Superintendent Karl Mueller sent out a press release on Sunday apologizing and calling the throwing of the tortillas reprehensible.

Many at the press conference said an apology from Coronado is not good enough for them. They also want diversity training, ethnic studies and other racial equity initiatives for Coronado High.

“We don’t want prayers and, ‘Oh, we’re sorry.’ We want action,” said Enrique Morones, founder of the Gente Unida organization.

Meanwhile some Coronado community members said the tortilla throwing was not meant to be racist, and they believe the Coronado team is being blamed before all the facts are investigated.

Candie Couts, who said she is a Coronado alumna, said during Tuesday’s board meeting that she was at Saturday’s game and saw people from both Coronado and Escondido acting in an unsportsmanlike way.

She criticized Mueller for sending out the press release on Sunday and assuming members of the Coronado team were guilty.

“Sir, you jumped the gun,” she said to Mueller. “You caused a myriad of issues for our boys, including death threats.”

Wayne McKinney, captain of the Coronado basketball team, has said Coronado coaches and players have received hate messages and death threats.

“They didn’t think that it could be perceived as a racial issue,” Couts said of those who threw the tortillas. “Our team consists of all kinds of races as well as Orange Glen. You had no right insinuating their guilt for something you had no idea about.”

McKinney said at the board meeting that some facts about Saturday night were being misrepresented.

He said his teammates did not know that someone had brought tortillas to the game, and that person was not associated with the team.

“It was not based on race or class; it was simply a great game between two teams,” McKinney said. “I think many people are making Saturday out to be something it was not.”

Still, he called the throwing of tortillas unsportsmanlike and inexcusable and has said he apologized to Orange Glen.

Others said that, even if the intent of the tortilla throwing was not racist or malicious, the act was perceived by many to be racist.

“No matter the intent of the tosser, the ethnic implications are unavoidable; they’re undeniable,” said Coronado School Board President Lee Pontes during Tuesday’s meeting.

Coronado Board Trustee Whitney Antrim agreed.

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“Even if they were not intended as racist, we cannot ignore that our guests, these children who played their hearts out for a championship, felt attacked because they were Hispanic,” she said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Pontes said he supports the apology Mueller gave on Sunday. He added that he does not believe the Coronado community is racist.

“I do not believe in my heart that our students, our staff, many kind people of Coronado, I do not believe them to be racist,” he said. “But I do believe we have much to learn about racial diversity and I hope to do so ... tonight.”

Mueller said the district’s responsibility is to acknowledge that what happened Saturday should never happen again.

“We should be here celebrating the efforts of two amazing teams,” Mueller said.

“Instead we’re discussing events that transpired as a result of some of the adult behavior, our inability to monitor and manage the expectations that we have for ourselves and, as a result we’re discussing situations that we need to capitalize on to grow and to learn from. And if we fail to do that, then we’re missing the strength and the power of this moment.”

Escondido Union High School District Superintendent Anne Staffieri said earlier Tuesday in a community letter that once the district’s investigation of the incident is done, Escondido wants to bring students from both teams “to face one another, to confront, discuss and grow stronger through honest discussions and sincere apologies.”