CORONADO, Calif. (AP) — A California man who claims he provided the tortillas that San Diego-area high school students threw at the basketball team of a mostly Latino high school last weekend has said that his intentions were not racist.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Wednesday that Coronado High School alumnus Luke Serna said he gave packs of tortillas to players for a celebration and that throwing them was a tradition at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he attended.
Serna also criticized the firing of Coronado’s head basketball coach following the incident with mostly Latino Orange Glen High School of Escondido, Calif.
“I realize the tortilla throwing has been perceived as racially insensitive,” Serna said in a statement. “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.”
The Coronado Unified School Board voted unanimously this week to release coach JD Laaperi following Saturday’s division championship game, where mostly white Coronado High School beat visiting Orange Glen 60-57 in overtime.
There was a squabble between coaching staff from both schools. Video widely shared on social media showed at least two Coronado students throwing tortillas into the air toward the other team.
The incident sparked a local outcry from some community activists and has drawn national attention.
Laaperi said on social media that a community member brought the tortillas to the game and that the incident was “unacceptable and racist in nature” and he did not condone it.
Coronado Unified School District Superintendent Karl Mueller issued a public apology, calling the act “reprehensible.”
“No matter the intent of the tosser, the ethnic implications are unavoidable; they’re undeniable,” Lee Pontes, Coronado school board president, said this week.
Orange Glen’s coach and two parents of the team’s players said they believe Laaperi started the post-game altercation. Serna, who attended the game, said the Orange Glen team confronted Coronado, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Mueller declined to comment on the decision to release Laaperi, saying it was a personnel issue.