Former Coronado Athletes, Coach Say Tortilla-Throwing Incident Wasn’t Isolated

Education

Former Coronado Athletes, Coach Say Tortilla-Throwing Incident Wasn’t Isolated

In the wake of an incident that cost Coronado High a basketball championship, non-White former Coronado players and one coach have come forward to describe their own uncomfortable experiences at the school.

Coronado High School
Imani Ware and Irlanda Goulding were both on the soccer team while attending Coronado High School. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

When supporters of the Coronado High School basketball team threw tortillas at players at an opposing team, the contrast was obvious: A team from a wealthy, White community was taunting a team from a poorer, Browner one.

But in the wake of the incident – and the backlash against consequences for the team and its coach – non-White former Coronado High players and one coach have come forward to describe their own uncomfortable experiences at the school. They said they’re not surprised by the incident, and disappointed that Coronado hasn’t changed since their time there.

“Now they’re finally getting a taste of their own medicine,” said Irlanda Goulding, who is Latina and a Coronado High School alum.

Many of the athletes who spoke to Voice of San Diego said they don’t feel welcome returning to the campus, and that their presence feels like an intrusion on the island’s bubble-like atmosphere. And they support efforts to hold the team and school district accountable, including requirements imposed by the California Interscholastic Federation that school leaders implement racial sensitivity training for administrators and school staff.

The district had already undertaken some actions, like establishing a committee focused on equity, to change its campus culture after some Coronado students spoke out about racist behavior they’d experienced.

“Because we are so homogeneous, episodes of discrimination, harassment, and intolerance towards Black, LatinX and LGBTQ children are easily and too often overlooked. But this makes the attacks even more poignant for the victims and their families, who have no support groups and feel they have nowhere to turn,” the community group InclusioNado wrote in a statement last summer.

Though Coronado itself is overwhelmingly White, Coronado High also attracts students from elsewhere in San Diego and those whose parents work at the U.S. Navy base in Coronado. In order for students to attend the school from outside of Coronado, students or their siblings must request an intra-district transfer, be accepted by the school administration and maintain adequate grades. Some of those students, like member of the prestigious School of the Arts, must participate in activities related to that program. Those students also have access to athletic programs the school offers, Karl Mueller, superintendent of Coronado Unified School District, wrote in an email to Voice of San Diego.

Over the last five years, between 12 and 15 percent of students attended Coronado Unified School District each year from outside the school’s boundaries, according to data provided by the district.

Despite the recent incident on the basketball court, Steven Dorsey, an executive leadership coach in the San Diego County Office of Education’s equity department who is part of Coronado Unified’s equity committee, said conversations about equity, empathy and inclusion are going strong.

“Some of that is having tough and messy conversations, but they’re in it and they’re going through it,” Dorsey said.

Earlier this month, the California Interscholastic Federation revoked Coronado’s basketball championship following the tortilla-throwing incident, and will require all Coronado High School administrators, athletic directors, coaches and student-athletes to take a workshop on sportsmanship, which will include racial and cultural sensitivity training and game management training.

“While consequences are warranted for such an egregious action as throwing tortillas at a predominantly Latino team and the sanctions below are being levied on the athletic program at Coronado High School, we must all be aware that behavior does not normally change with sanctions alone,” the CIF said in a statement in late June. “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.”

Mueller said the district is committed to district initiatives around equity, anti-bullying and anti-harassment efforts aligned with state education code requiring public schools to “take affirmative steps to combat racism, sexism and other forms of bias.”

Coronado Unified School District
Parents, students and community members protest outside of the Coronado Unified School District building in August 2020, urging officials to enact policies to address racial discrimination. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

“We are committed to ensure that all of our students feel safe, valued, and respected. We make purposeful efforts to prioritize fairness and equity for every child, every day,” Mueller said.

Former CHS community members told VOSD they hope the new sanctions, outside calls for reform and racial equity efforts begun last summer will create change they believe is long overdue.

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Imani Ware, who is Black, was a freshman on the Coronado High Soccer team when her coach moved her up to the varsity team. She said parents of other White, Coronado-based players protested then-head coach Kiko Medina’s decision – and that shortly after, Medina left the team. She said she believed her inclusion on the team and Medina’s departure were linked. Mueller told VOSD Ware’s interpretation of the circumstances behind Medina’s exit were “unequivocally false.” Medina did not respond to requests for comment.

“Students were more abrasive towards me as a Black woman,” Ware said. “I was different than their Coronado community.”

Ware graduated from Coronado High School in 2016. Ware lived in San Diego at the time, and commuted to Coronado.

Ware recalled another incident in her English class when she and her classmates were watching the movie “Roots,” and her White classmates nicknamed her another Black student “Kizzy No. 1” and “Kizzy No. 2” after a Black slave in the story.

“I didn’t realize that when I was in there and then, I was like, ‘Oh my God, they have a joke about me,’” Ware said.

Ware said she’s glad the tortilla-throwing incident is bringing the Coronado community’s pattern of discrimination to light, but she said it’s going to take a lot of work to create meaningful change.

“Sometimes the adults were the worst,” she said. “Their kids are only a reflection of them, and they are the ones who need to be better.”

In order to change the culture of the campus, she suggested district start with improving equity within its athletics department.

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Goulding played alongside Ware on the soccer team.

Goulding said she witnessed many instances of discrimination in high school, and recalled Ware’s experience on the team.

Goulding said she felt a sense of entitlement from students and parents who lived on Coronado, and believed they felt Coronado residents mattered more than those who didn’t live there. Goulding lived in San Diego when she attended Coronado High.

“If you weren’t White, living in Coronado or grew up with a lot of money … there was a barrier. You would be called ‘off-islanders,’” Goulding said. She graduated from Coronado High School in 2015.

Goulding said she too hopes the district focuses on changing the culture of its athletics programs because teams play schools whose players have different backgrounds and income levels. She said players would often be disrespectful to opposing teams.

“I know a lot of people who were like ‘Oh my god, we’re in the ghetto. It’s like ‘Chill, we’re just in Chula Vista,’” Goulding said.

Ware and Goulding said they stuck together on campus along with other kids who didn’t live in Coronado because they felt more accepted in that group and were discriminated against by White students from Coronado.

“It felt like we were outcasts; it was weird. I’ve never really had many friends on the island now that I’m looking back at it,” Goulding said.

They recounted a time when a fellow student wrote about her experience as a Black girl at the school in the school newspaper and was isolated from her peers as a result. Ware said it made her afraid to talk about her own experiences.

Ware was referring to a letter to the editor published in The Islander Times, the school’s newspaper, written by Jasmine Goodson, who was then a senior.

In the June 2015 piece, Goodson wrote an open letter to students and school staff about her experience as a biracial Black and Costa Rican student, and described racism she’d experienced as part of the school community for several years.

“Being a person of color at a predominately white school, in all aspects, is hard, not just because of discrimination, but because you will automatically feel different,” she wrote. “You will be set to a certain standard of beauty that requires you to ‘tame’ your hair, have a slimmer nose, or thinner lips, all of which I have been teased about.’

She described racially insensitive comments and jokes directed at her and recalled other occasions in which two Black students and one Black staff member were mistreated on campus. She ended the letter by urging people not to dismiss claims that racism exists at the school.

“Just because you don’t believe that it is happening and just because you haven’t seen it happen doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened,” she wrote.

It wouldn’t be the last time a student of color went public about their experiences facing discrimination at the school.

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Following the movement for racial equity in Coronado and across the country last summer, Edward Hayes, a former football captain at Coronado High, wrote about his experience as one of the few Black players on the team in a commentary for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

But Hayes’ experience was relatively unique: Hayes lived in Coronado when he went to CHS.

In the commentary, he wrote that he felt he was not judged on his hard work and character on the football team, but based on stereotypes of young Black men.

“What it resulted in was a barrage of nasty comments both on and off the field and me trying to prove them wrong — you are too Black or you are not Black enough,” Hayes wrote. Hayes graduated from Coronado High School in 2020.

He called the racism he saw in sports at Coronado a form of microaggression.

“It seemed more unintentional with societal norms and cultural nuances playing a role or students just parroting what they have learned at home,” he wrote. “These excuses, however, do not make it OK.”

In the piece, he said future players can “can be afforded a more diverse playing field” allowing them to appreciate their differences., but it needs to start with conversation and a relationship.

“I want to see Coronado be more diverse and open. In order for that to happen, we need to encourage open conversation with Black athletes and students alike, to understand their motivations and stories,” he wrote.

In an interview with Voice of San Diego, Hayes said he wasn’t surprised by the tortilla-throwing incident, but he hopes the school uses it as an opportunity to have more conversations surrounding equity, and that more people step forward and take responsibility for what happened.

Hayes said he encourages other athletes of color at the school to come forward with their own experiences of discrimination to their coaches to put them on alert.

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In 2017, longtime Coronado head football coach Tony Isabella retired from his role after almost 20 years with the district. Isabella is Mexican and Italian.

In an interview with Voice of San Diego, Isabella said he tried to change the culture at Coronado for years – mostly without success.

He recalled a time just after he started as head football coach and was racially profiled despite wearing a shirt and cap identifying him as the CHS football coach. As he walked to the football field, a man approached him and asked him to empty the trash cans near the pool area.

Later that night, he said the man stood in line and shouted, “That’s right, head football coach a Mexican, not the janitor!” he said.

Isabella said he left the school in part because of the way he was treated like he was “meeting a quota” of non-White support staff, and because he lost his passion for coaching.

Isabella said discrimination didn’t stop at CHS but extended in the community. He experienced similar comments as a coach for the Pop Warner football league in Coronado.

“I was stopped and questioned by police and parents quite a few times as to what I was doing in Coronado,” he said. “I heard a few of the Hispanic players on both the Pop Warner teams and the high school teams called ‘beaner.’ I did not hesitate to correct this.”

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