May 27, 2024


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Man who brought tortillas to Coronado game says there was ‘absolutely no racial intent’

The man who says he supplied the tortillas that Coronado students threw at Orange Glen High basketball players said Wednesday that his intentions were not racist and the district should not have fired its basketball coach.

Luke Serna, who is a Coronado alumnus and is half-Mexican, said he brought packs of tortillas and gave them to Coronado players for a celebration.

Serna has been active in Coronado Democratic circles and says he is an officer with the SEIU 1000 union.

He wrote in an unsigned letter to the school board Tuesday that the tortillas were solely for celebratory purposes, mentioning that it has been a tradition at some UC Santa Barbara sporting events. Serna graduated from UCSB.

“There was not a shred of ill-intent or racial animus in carrying out this celebratory action,” Serna wrote in the letter. “Those who have enflamed this issue into a racially charged issue should be utterly ASHAMED of themselves.”

Later in the week on Thursday, Serna apologized to people who were hurt by the tortilla incident.

“I realize the tortilla throwing has been perceived as racially insensitive,” he 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.”

Luke Serna, who is a Coronado resident and alumnus.

Luke Serna, a Coronado alumnus who is half-Mexican, said he brought the tortillas to the game between Coronado High and Orange Glen High Schools. He said he attended UC Santa Barbara, where students have thrown tortillas to celebrate.

(Courtesy of Luke Serna)

His statements are the latest wrinkle in an incident that has made national news and has been linked to Coronado firing its head basketball coach, JD Laaperi.

A variety of community and civil rights groups, school district officials, lawmakers and others have denounced the tortilla tossing as racist against the Latino community and people of color in general.

Some Coronado community members have pushed back against this characterization, saying there was no racist intent and the Coronado team has been unfairly persecuted.

School district officials, Coronado police and California athletics officials said they are investigating it.

The incident began at a heated division championship basketball game Saturday night that Coronado won 60-57.

After the game ended, there was an altercation between members of the two teams in the Coronado gym.

According to video recordings of the incident, at least two Coronado players threw tortillas into the air toward the Orange Glen team.

The vast majority of Orange Glen students are Latino, and most of the Orange Glen team is Latino.

Enrique Morones, a local activist, said he was disappointed by Serna’s letter. He said being half-Mexican doesn’t absolve Serna, who should have known that throwing tortillas would be insulting and inappropriate, and “he definitely knew Orange Glen was predominantly Latino,” Morones said.

He said he wants Coronado to forfeit the game. He said he has offered to do diversity training at the high school.

Tuesday night, when the Coronado school board voted 5-0 to fire Laaperi, they did not specify why he was fired. Laaperi also is a teacher and has worked at Coronado’s Silver Strand Elementary School. A district official Wednesday would not say whether Laaperi retains his teaching job.

Some said Laaperi incited the post-game altercation.

Orange Glen head coach Chris Featherly said in a Sunday interview that his team was waiting for a post-game awards ceremony to begin when Laaperi cursed at him and his players, saying “That’s why you don’t talk (expletive). Get your kids and get the (expletive) out of here.”

At a press conference at Coronado High Tuesday, two parents of Orange Glen players also said they believe Laaperi started the altercation.

But according to Serna, who was at the game, it was the Orange Glen team who confronted the Coronado team after the game.

Serna said Laaperi “handled himself with grace” and ordered his players to the locker room to avoid confrontation.

Serna said Laaperi’s job should not have been in jeopardy and he believes Laaperi was pressured to send out an apologetic tweet Sunday.

Laaperi tweeted, “Unfortunately a community member brought tortillas and distributed them which was unacceptable and racist in nature. I do not condone this behavior.”

Laaperi did not respond to requests for comment, although he has said the district asked him not to comment further on the incident.

Several community activists and some Coronado board members said that even if the intent of the tortilla throwing was not racist, many perceived the action to be racist.

“No matter the intent of the tosser, the ethnic implications are unavoidable; they’re undeniable,” said Coronado School Board President Lee Pontes during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Coronado Superintendent Karl Mueller declined to comment on Serna’s criticisms of the district, saying the district does not comment on confidential personnel matters.

The act of throwing tortillas dates back decades at UCSB, but the practice has been controversial.

Fans used to throw toilet paper after their team scored the first points of the game, according to the Los Angeles Times. They switched to tortillas after security started confiscating the toilet paper; tortillas were flatter and easier to sneak in.

Tortilla throwing drew frustration from some UCSB coaches. In one basketball game in 1997, fans threw tortillas at members of the opposing team during the game, costing UCSB technical fouls.

Anissa Durham contributed to this story.