Calif. High School Basketball Coach Fired After 'Racist' Incident Where Tortillas Were Thrown at Opposing Team
A division championship basketball game between two Southern California high schools on Saturday took a dark turn, ultimately leading to the firing of one of the head coaches.
The Coronado Unified School Board voted unanimously to fire basketball coach JD Laaperi at a meeting Tuesday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
After Saturday's game between Coronado and Orange Glen high schools, some people threw tortillas at the losing Orange Glen team. The incident was caught on camera, and because Orange Glen is a predominantly Latino school, many people have called the incident racist, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Witnesses told the San Diego Union-Tribune that at one point Laaperi shouted, "Get your kids and get the f– out of here," at an Orange Glen coach after the game ended.
Community anger at the incident culminated in Laaperi's termination Tuesday.
The Coronado Unified School Board voted 5-0 in a closed session to expel Laaperi, and have not provided further comment on the matter. The Board did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment Wednesday.
On Sunday, Laaperi released a statement condemning the tortilla throwing.
"Unfortunately a community member brought tortillas and distributed them which was unacceptable and racist in nature. I do not condone this behavior," he said. "Coronado High School does not condone this behavior and is already taking appropriate action."
Laaperi did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment Wednesday.
Several community members and Coronado staffers spoke during Tuesday's board meeting before the coach was voted out.
Wayne McKinney, captain of the Coronado basketball team, said none of the people associated with the team were involved and that the athletes have received death threats since the events on Saturday were made public, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
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"It was not based on race or class; it was simply a great game between two teams," McKinney said, according to the outlet. "I think many people are making Saturday out to be something it was not."
Video footage of the tortilla throwing appears to show some Coronado players throwing the tortillas, however.
"No matter the intent of the tosser, the ethnic implications are unavoidable; they're undeniable," Coronado School Board President Lee Pontes told attendees at the meeting, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. "I do not believe in my heart that our students, our staff, many kind people of Coronado, I do not believe them to be racist. But I do believe we have much to learn about racial diversity and I hope to do so ... tonight."
Coronado school trustee Whitney Antrim similarly said, "Even if they were not intended as racist, we cannot ignore that our guests, these children who played their hearts out for a championship, felt attacked because they were Hispanic," according to the outlet.
On Monday, Coronado Unified School District Superintendent Karl Mueller issued an apology to Orange Glen, calling the act "reprehensible" and said he hopes the events will serve as a "teachable" moment as they conduct an investigation.
The school board also sent a letter to Orange Glen on Monday that read, "The Trustees of the Coronado Unified School District acknowledge these acts to be egregious, demeaning and disrespectful," adding that they condemn "the racism, classism and colorism which fueled the actions of the perpetrators."
Coronado Unified School District, Escondido Union High School District, Coronado police and the California Interscholastic Federation are doing a joint investigation into the events that unfolded during the game against Orange Glen.
Escondido Union High School superintendent Dr. Anne Staffieri released a statement on Tuesday calling the events at the game "ugly and unacceptable racist behavior" during what was "should have been a celebratory event."
She added that at the conclusion of the investigation she wants students from both teams "to face one another, to confront, discuss and grow stronger through honest discussions and sincere apologies."