Coronado mayor weighs in on tortilla-throwing controversy

Local

SAN DIEGO — The mayor of Coronado is weighing in on the controversy after the incident at a local high school basketball game that led to national attention and the firing of a school coach.

In the aftermath of a championship game between Coronado and Orange Glen High School last Saturday, video shows tortillas being thrown onto the court and at Orange Glen players after Coronado High won the game. It came at the end of a fiercely competitive game that saw verbal sparring between the teams and their coaches.

Orange Glen serves predominantly Latino students, and the act was condemned as racist by local activists, coaches from both teams, school leaders and other community members. Others, including some Coronado players, have said people have misjudged the intent of the tortilla-throwing, which they say was meant to be celebratory and not racially motivated.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey spoke to FOX 5 about the fallout from the CIF game for the first time Wednesday. He asked for patience while officials continue their investigation into the incident.

“(I’d) just encourage everyone to take a breath. We are concerned about this. The school district has expressed a deep desire to get to the bottom of what really happened,” Bailey said. “Ultimately, the truth will come out.”

Bailey suggested that the heated exchanges among players and fans during the game had been inappropriately aggressive, and that throwing the tortillas had been insensitive, but that it may not have been done with racial malice.

“There were a lot of words exchanged between players, between fans, between both coaches,” Bailey said. “What transpired at the end of the game appears to be unsportsmanlike conduct that was racially insensitive, as opposed to something that was racially motivated. I think that’s a really important distinction.

“It doesn’t take away from the fact that a lot of people in the Orange Glen community were offended and were insulted.”

Bailey asked people to let the police and the school district take the lead in the investigation.

Players said in their apology this week that the person who brought the tortillas to the game had not been affiliated with Coronado High basketball.

A school alum named Luke Serna has taken responsibility for bringing the tortillas to the game, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune that he brought the packs and distributed them to players and fans to help celebrate if they won.

In a letter to the school board shared with the newspaper, Serna writes that “the tossing of tortillas is used as a celebratory action by the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at various sporting events including basketball and soccer.” He says he attended the school which gave him the idea.

“There was not a shred of ill-intent or racial animus in carrying out this celebratory action,” he writes.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Serna shared the following statement with FOX 5:

“I realize the tortilla throwing has been perceived as racially insensitive. I do not condone racially insensitive behavior, and that was not my intent. I apologize to all who were hurt by this and hope it can be a teaching moment for us all to become more conscious.”

Regardless of intent, local leaders who condemned the incident said it was just another example of hurtful, insensitive treatment faced by young athletes of color.

“The racial tones, the classism, that was displayed as well as the colorism that was displayed is evident to every Latino from the west coast to the east coast,” Coronado Unified trustee Esther Valdes-Clayton said.

“Parents in SD County know that racist taunts against latino athletes are too commonplace,” Rep. Lorena Gonzalez wrote on Twitter. “It’s time to stop it.”

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