Throwing tortillas at a group of predominantly Latino high school basketball players has sparked a new debate about racism in the California city of Coronado.
On Tuesday night, the Coronado Unified School Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to fire its high school basketball coach head, JD Laaperi, who allegedly confronted the opposing team’s coach after the game.
At the end of a Saturday night regional California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) title game between Coronado High School basketball and Orange Glen High School, tortillas were thrown at the predominantly Latino players from Orange Glen. Coronado had won the game by three points in overtime.
Orange Glen assistant coach Lizardo Reynoso told Latino Rebels on Wednesday that after losing the game, they were celebrating the season and telling the students they did a great job when the members of the winning Coronado team started to insult them.
“Their head coach [Laaperi] was right in front of me. And I was standing next to the head coach, when he told us that, that’s why that’s what you get for talking shit. You need to get your players and get the f out of here, losers. And we were just like, what, like, that’s not how you’re supposed to win a game,” Reynoso said.
After that, Reynoso said, they started arguing with each other and having “a little conflict.” It was then that Reynoso started seeing tortillas being thrown near him.
“All of a sudden, tortillas started coming towards us, and it took me like a second to realize what they were doing. My wife was like, ‘Hey, they’re throwing tortillas.’ And I’m just like, are they really trying to send that message right now? Because our school is predominantly Latino and Hispanic,” said Reynoso, who is of Mexican descent.
On Sunday, before news of being fired, Laaperi called the tortillas incident “unacceptable and racist in nature.”
Unfortunately a community member brought tortillas and distributed them which was unacceptable and racist in nature. I do not condone this behavior. Coronado High School does not condone this behavior and is already taking appropriate action.
— JD Laaperi (@jdlaaperi) June 20, 2021
In videos chronicling the incident, some people can be seen with tortillas but it is not clear who is throwing them.
Authorities said the matter is still being investigated, although there are reports that a fan was identified as the instigator.
Coronado staff says they’ve identified the fan and players who threw tortillas at OG players and coaches and vowed swift disciplinary action.
— Full-Time Hoops (@FullTimeHoops1) June 20, 2021
Coronado High School also promised more disciplinary action. However, so far the only action has been against the coach. In a statement issued on Tuesday, Coronado Superintendent of Schools Karl Mueller said the following:
“We will outline our practices and highlight relevant resources used in determining an appropriate course of action. We will not discuss specific information or details as this is an ongoing investigation. As in all cases, we will take a critical look at the actions and behaviors of our staff and student body, and dispense consequences where appropriate in order to hold ourselves accountable to the policies which govern our district. It is important for our community to understand that EUHSD [Escondido Union High School Districti] is conducting their own thorough investigation.”
“We’re hoping that there’s some disciplinary action towards [Coronado]. And some of the systems that behave a certain way. It wasn’t just a head coach, when you have two more assistants, and I guess one of them ran to the stands and tried to pick fights with our parents. Then an assistant coach came over to our bench and was also yelling at us. You just can’t do that. It’s a basketball game. You know, he’s not supposed to take it farther than that. Especially after you win the game and it’s full of high emotions,” Reynoso said.
Orange Glen High School senior Roel Lumbergh, 18, one of the team’s players, told Latino Rebels that the incident was “sad and disappointing.”
“They need to be held accountable. It wasn’t just the head coach. It was some of the fans, some of the assistant coaches too, taking the power escalating here by calling us names and all that after they won. And some of the players threw the tortillas. I think they need to be taken care of, or acted upon,” Lumbergh added.
Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.