Kevin Ashley (right) stands with his son, Kieran, a 2022 Coronado High School graduate and basketball player. Photo courtesy of the Ashley family.

I am writing this in response to an Op-Ed that appeared in The Coronado News by Paul Machin of We the Parents Coronado on what has become known as “Tortilla-Gate” in the wake of the June 19th, 2021 CIF Southern California Boys Basketball Championship game held at CHS gymnasium.

When I read the line, “Not one of them did anything wrong,” I did a double take. Wait…what?”

“As a team booster and parent of a player from the 2021 CIF Championship team, I have first-hand knowledge about Tortilla-Gate.”

-Kevin Ashley

As a team booster and parent of a player from the 2021 CIF Championship team, I have first-hand knowledge about Tortilla-Gate. Over the past two years, out of respect for the team, I have tried to avoid giving this unfortunate incident any additional oxygen. However, when I read that one line, I felt compelled to respond.

Not one of them did anything wrong?

Heat of the moment

The two uniformed and rostered CHS Varsity players who threw tortilla at the opposing coaches and players that night responded impulsively in the heat of the moment to an altercation at the end of the game.

Our CHS head coach, who is oddly not mentioned in Mr. Machin’s Op-Ed, unfortunately bears much of the responsibility for the events that night.

First, the person who brought the tortillas to the game, Mr. Machin’s so called political activist, told The Coronado Times in a June 2021 interview that the coach knew ahead of time that he was bringing tortillas to the game to celebrate. This person was a former classmate of the coach both at CHS and at UC Santa Barbara. 

Both men failed to recognize the inherent peril in such an idea. Secondly, and more importantly, our head coach lost his cool at the end of the game and shouted profanity and insults at the Orange Glen coaches and players.

This caused a shouting and shoving match that led to two of our CHS players to impulsively fling tortillas towards the approaching Orange Glen players and coaches.

Not one of them did anything wrong?

Mr. Machin’s failure to acknowledge that the boys made a mistake is deeply disturbing.

The tortillas they tossed landed on the visiting teams’ players and coaches. Publicly available video of the incident captured an Orange Glen parent or fan shouting. “They are throwing tortillas at us! Racists!”

Actions did in fact cause harm

While we all know that our players had no racist intent in their actions, clearly the impact of those actions were felt as racist by some in the moment. That matters. Our players’ regrettable actions did in fact cause harm.

As a community, we must acknowledge this uncomfortable truth. Our players have learned from their mistakes and have since competed honorably as Islanders.

However, Mr. Machin and We the Parents Coronado have deliberately chosen to continue to use this incident and our student-athletes in their never-ending culture wars against our school system.

Mr. Machin’s statement strongly suggests that both he and We the Parents Coronado believe that there is nothing wrong with throwing tortillas at players and coaches of a predominantly Hispanic/Latino team.

While our young players made mistakes in the heat of the moment, Mr. Machin has had nearly two years to get all his facts straight and his words right, and thus we must take his words at face value.

His statement is factually incorrect, ethnically insensitive, and appalling to most Islanders. His statement clearly implies that certain ethnic groups in our town are not deserving of safety or respect.

Embrace the “Islander spirit”

I suggest that Mr. Machin pause and reconsider the impact of his words and also come to grips with the changing world around him. The student population of Coronado schools is now more than 25% Hispanic/Latino and growing.

Our neighborhoods are also increasingly multicultural, a fact that should be embraced. What makes us Islanders has nothing to do with race and everything to do with our genuine neighborliness and community spirit.

Coronado does not need a bogus “watchdog” organization that apparently cares only about the needs of one demographic group.

It instead needs all Coronado community members to embrace the Islander spirit.

Kevin Ashley is a Coronado resident and historian who launched The Coronado Black History Project.

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