CORONADO, Calif. – A Coronado resident has taken credit for bringing the tortillas that were thrown over the weekend at a regional championship basketball game at Coronado High.
Luke Serna told FOX 5 that he wrote the unsigned letter to the Coronado Unified Governing Board in which he argues there was “absolutely no racial intent” in tossing the tortillas in the air at the end of the game against Orange Glen High School. He said they were brought to mimic a tradition done at various sporting events at UC Santa Barbara, which he says he attended from 1999 to 2004.
The incident has been condemned this week for being racist and disrespectful, and led to the dismissal of Coronado High head basketball coach JD Laaperi in a unanimous vote Tuesday night.
“There was not a shred of ill-intent or racial animus in carrying out this celebratory action,” Serna wrote in the letter to the board. “Those who have enflamed this issue into a racially charged issue should be utterly ASHAMED of themselves. The people who have fallen for this frame-up to smear Coach Laaperi are not worthy of being any part of the discussion regarding this event as it is their intent to try and fan the flames of racism where none existed.”
Serna also tells FOX 5 that he is half-Mexican. In the letter, he writes: “I brought the tortillas to the game and provided them to players and cheerleaders to toss out onto the floor of the gym in celebration IF, and they certainly did, win the Regional Championship Game.”
He later added in a statement:
“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, the incident was not well received by Orange Glen players and coaches as well as activists and school district leaders from Coronado Unified and the Escondido Union High School District.
Lizardo Reynoso, an assistant basketball coach at Orange Glen, told FOX 5 Monday that the team was “very offended and very hurt.” Mark Madore, a Orange Glen guard, said he’d never experienced anything like it, noting, “I felt like we were really disrespected.”
The Coronado school board apologized to the Orange Glen school community, acknowledging the act as “egregious, demeaning, and disrespectful.”
Escondido Union High leaders said Tuesday they are looking deeper into the matter.
“Those that did wrong must be held accountable and this is top of mind for us,” Superintendent Anne Staffieri said.
Coronado basketball captain Wayne McKinney issued an apology on behalf of the team at Tuesday night’s special Coronado school board meeting.
“The tortillas were brought by someone not associated by the team,” McKinney said. “However, the throwing of the tortillas after the game was unsportsmanlike and inexcusable and on that behalf of the team, we apologize for that action.”
On Wednesday, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey applauded that apology.
“An acknowledgment the actions that some of the players took was unsportsmanlike, and it certainly was racially insensitive, and I applaud the captains for stepping up and issuing an apology that’s deserved by the Orange Glen community and their players and their fans,” Bailey said.