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High school basketball team is stripped of title after tortillas were thrown at opposing Latino players

Side view of basketball hoop with ball on black background. (iStock)

A high school basketball team in Southern California was stripped of its regional title after members of the mostly White team threw tortillas at a predominantly Latino opposing team following a final match two weeks ago, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) said Wednesday.

The CIF, the state’s governing body for high school sports, said in a news release that based on the investigations conducted by the local schools and school districts, the 2021 Southern California Boys Basketball Division 4-A Regional Championship has been vacated.

“The act of throwing tortillas at a predominately Latino team is unacceptable and warrants sanctions,” the release stated adding that "discriminatory and racially insensitive behaviors toward an opponent contravene the principles of education-based athletics.”

The incident took place on June 19 at the end of a the Regional Basketball Championship game between two San Diego-area high schools, Coronado High School and Orange Glen High School.

After Coronado won the game by three points in a reportedly heated match, several of its players threw tortillas at Orange Glen, a high school with predominantly Hispanic students, according to members of the team and videos shared on social media.

The federation also announced that the Coronado’s basketball team players will be on probation through the end of the 2024 school year.

Arguing that sanctions alone are not enough for a change in behavior, the CIF mandated all Coronado High School administrators, athletic directors, coaches and students-athletes to complete a sportsmanship workshop that includes racial and cultural sensitive training.

“The path towards real change comes with the development of empathy for those who are on the receiving end of this type of degrading and demeaning behavior, no matter the proffered intent of that behavior,” the release added.

The Coronado Unified School District released a statement following the CIF’s decision Wednesday saying they are “reviewing the decision” and that they “will evaluate a possible appeal,” but granted that the decision has "served as clear reminders of the importance of sportsmanship and respectful conduct toward one another.”

The resolution came after the incident prompted strong condemnations of racism and discriminatory practices in schools from several local officials.

Days after the game, the Coronado Unified School District’s Governing Board, which serves predominantly White students, issued an apology in a letter sent to the Escondido Union High School District, which oversees Orange Glen, and said that those who had participated in the “reprehensible” acts " did not reflect their school district values."

“We fully condemn the racism, classism, and colorism which fueled the actions of the perpetrators,” the Coronado district board wrote.

Coronado schools superintendent Karl Mueller, also condemned the incident as “reprehensible” and promised “swift action.”

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez also weighed in.

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

She also issued a message to parents: “Teach your kids not to be racist,” she said on Twitter. “Tortillas are for eating, not throwing.”

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange Glen head coach Chris Featherly said his staff and players were waiting for a post-game award ceremony when Coronado head coach JD Laaperi directed disrespectful comments at Featherly and his players, he said.

It was during the confrontation that the tortillas were hurled. Featherly said he was struck but didn’t know what it was until he looked at the ground and saw tortillas.

Coronado Coach J.D. Laaperi said in a Tweet that “a community member” had brought tortillas and distributed them, which, he said, was "unacceptable and racist in nature,” and added that he did not condone the behavior.

“Tortillas were flying in the air like at our bench and stuff,” said Anthony Garibay, an Orange Glen basketball player told San Diego’s KGTV. “It was a great game between both teams, we both played our hearts out, and it ended in a way it shouldn’t have ended. The players who obviously threw the tortillas and whoever came up with that should obviously be punished, you know, definitely not taken lightly.”