Coaches from both schools involved in the notorious tortilla-throwing incident at Coronado High School in June exchanged heated words and insulted one another in the moments after an emotional, razor-close championship game, an investigation into the melee released Tuesday said.
The report, commissioned by the Coronado Unified School District and conducted by local firm The Sobel Group, features witness interviews and a timeline of events surrounding the June 19 game between Coronado and Orange Glen, a predominantly Latino high school in the Escondido Union High School District.
According to a timeline of events in the report, Coronado’s head coach cursed at Orange Glen first, then Orange Glen coaches went to center court and an altercation ensued.
The tortilla-throwing that happened during the altercation drew national attention and condemnation from civil rights groups and community members as being racist.
Adults from both teams were blamed for fueling the altercation that led to the tortilla-throwing, and then-head basketball coach JD Laaperi was fired from his coaching job.
The precise details of what happened and who said what have been in dispute in the months since the incident.
Some Coronado community members and local leaders claimed that Coronado was unfairly persecuted, that the incident was not racial, that Laaperi was wrongfully fired and that Coronado Unified leadership rushed to judgment when they apologized for the incident.
Eleven days after the game, the California Interscholastic Federation stripped Coronado of its championship title and handed down other sanctions, including requirements for cultural sensitivity training and probation.
In July, Coronado Unified officials appealed the CIF sanctions, saying that Coronado students shouldn’t be punished for the actions of adults that fueled the June 19 incident.
Coronado Unified commissioned the Sobel investigation to aid the district with its appeal.
But in November, a CIF appeal panel refused to return the championship title to Coronado, although it relaxed other sanctions it had dealt to Coronado.
The Sobel report offered no conclusions, only summaries of interviews with witnesses and a timeline of events.
Coronado Unified redacted all summaries of student interviews from the report for privacy and safety reasons, the district said, even though Sobel had already changed students’ and parents’ names to letter identifiers to mask their identities. Witness names and “other private information” not directly related to the events surrounding the basketball game were also redacted.
“The Sobel Group investigation reveals the complexities of intent versus perception, as the individual first-person accounts of events illustrate how different perspectives and experiences can exist simultaneously,” Coronado Superintendent Karl Mueller said in a statement.
The investigators reached out to 40 people to interview about the incident, including coaches, players, administrators, parents, referees and other witnesses.
Serna, the adult Coronado alumnus who brought the tortillas to the game, refused to be interviewed or participate in the investigation, according to Sobel.
“I was very concerned that the investigation was set out to place further blame on me rather than determine that it was (Coronado Unified’s) rush to judgment and unwillingness to push back at SJW (social justice warriors) who believe any act emanating from Coronado must have some sort of discriminatory racial overtone,” Serna said in a text message Tuesday.
Serna added, “My approach was to put out what my intentions were and be transparent in an effort to put my involvement in this ordeal to rest as quickly as possible,” he said. “As a result of this saga, I’ve dealt with family tensions, mental illness, work challenge and have been undergoing continuing therapy since that time.”
Serna has said that he brought the tortillas to the game to throw for celebratory purposes if Coronado won, and he said there was no racial intention behind them.
Serna said he has not seen the final investigation report yet but he doesn’t believe the investigation reveals anything new. He said he disagrees with the CIF’s “hasty decision” and is disappointed in how Coronado Unified treated Laaperi.
Laaperi declined to comment for this story.
Before the game started, Serna handed out packages of tortillas to a Coronado basketball player and Coronado cheerleaders. He told them to throw the tortillas onto the court if Coronado won. He told the player to share tortillas with other students.
After a close and intense game that went into overtime, Coronado High won 60-57 with a buzzer-beater three-pointer. The three referees left the gym as soon as time expired. Moments later, Coronado players hoisted one of their players up and Laaperi congratulated and hugged him.
Then Laaperi went to the Orange Glen bench and said something that was not audible on the video. Sobel said it was believed that Laaperi said, “Losers. That’s why you don’t talk (expletive). Now get the (expletive) out of here.”
Laaperi pointed his arm in the air twice and said, “Go home. Go home.”
After that, the Orange Glen coaches went to center court and an altercation ensued among coaches and fans, with people yelling and pushing each other.
That’s when two Coronado students began tossing tortillas from the Coronado side of the court within seconds of each other. They threw the tortillas toward the crowd where the altercation was unfolding, near the Coronado bench, according to the report.
More cursing and pushing quickly followed.
“That’s a great game and you wrecked a great game,” Featherly, the Orange Glen coach, yelled at Laaperi, the Sobel report said.
Someone was trying to take Featherly back to the Orange Glen bench, but Featherly got out of their way and went back to Laaperi to say, “JD, JD, you’re a (expletive) dude. That is whack …”
The two head coaches continued to quarrel, with Laaperi saying “Chris” over and over.
Featherly said to Laaperi, “That was a great game and you are going to come over here and say that. Just go. You take care of your team and I’ll take care of mine. That’s horrible … Don’t play this victim role right now.”
The altercation ended four minutes and 19 seconds after the end of the game, when it was announced that police were coming and that people needed to leave.
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