Basketball

Coronado High School Basketball Scorer Shares His Experience Of The State Championship Game

Coronado High School Basketball Scorer Shares His Experience Of The State Championship Game

Brad Couture, a former educator at Coronado High School for many years, has stayed connected with Coronado High School (CHS) as a scorekeeper for basketball games this past year. I sat down with Couture as another member of the community who was present at the State Championship game in an official capacity, and witnessed its viral aftermath, who has wanted to share his experience on the events that transpired.

Couture was one of three scorers at the scorer’s table for the State Championship game between Coronado and Orange Glen. “It’s scorekeeping and timing, and you have two other scorers at the table; another for Coronado and one for Orange Glen,” he explained. “I wasn’t at the CIF game, I was out of town so I didn’t know the atmosphere…but I knew there was some contention.”

Couture had been asked by Coronado’s athletic director, Robin Nixon, if he was available for the final game. “I was excited. Here you had two teams that played a very tight game. They had to go play two other teams from Southern California, beat those two teams, and they were coming back [to play each other again].”

Couture continued, “When I arrived at the table, I introduced myself to the Orange Glen scorer. I told her my goal was for everything to be correct and if there were any issues we would fix them as soon as possible. … In my conversation with her, I learned that she was the wife of one of the assistant coaches and that coach was sitting right next to the head coach.” As the game was getting started, Couture noted that the Orange Glen head coach did not shake hands with the Coronado starting lineup of players, sending his assistant coach instead. It wasn’t until later that Couture heard about some complaints Orange Glen (OG) had before the game. “I found out later on that the OG coach was upset about not getting a locker room. I found out there were some issues with water; we always put a big tub of water out and share our water but for whatever reason maybe [the OG coach] thought, ‘If you have a jug of water you should provide one for us.’ But I don’t know, as athletes and coaches we always brought our own jug of water, even on away competitions. We always did that. …Maybe he was upset about some of those issues before the game, I wasn’t sure, but it was odd to me that he wouldn’t shake our hands.”

Couture also noted that it was unusual that the championship game was being played at Coronado instead of at a neutral location as the CIF final had been, and that the fans in the bleachers were not separated by a home and visitor’s side as they normally would be. “A whole section of the farthest side of the home section was filled with Orange Glen fans. I didn’t reflect on that until this incident occurred, but that was the second thing; I kind of went, ‘Why are they over there?’ …I don’t know why this happened in this game, and [Coronado fans] were in the middle of two groups of Orange Glen [fans],” he reflected.

As the game began Couture said it was among the most competitive games he’s seen with both sides playing a great game.

However, like similar accounts from credentialed photographer, Kel Casey, and an assistant and videographer for the Coronado basketball team, Paul Lull, both at the game, Couture noticed a few young men directly behind the Orange Glen bench that were taunting the Coronado players. “I mentioned this to the Orange Glen scorer, and her reaction surprised me; complete anger in her face,” Couture told me. “She stated that Coronado did it to them at the CIF game. I quickly told her that the scorer’s table is going to remain neutral, and I really did care about that. As much as I wanted the Islanders to win, I wanted the table to remain neutral and that we’re going to do a good job and stay focused. And I got off the subject with her.”

Couture watched as Orange Glen equalized the game late in the fourth quarter (OG was leading most of the game) to take the teams into overtime. “During the overtime both teams continued to play tenaciously. Each team managed to score eight points; it’s 57-57 with 2.2 seconds left and a timeout is called and Coronado has the ball. A play is drawn up by the coach, and the clock starts when a player on the court comes into contact with the ball. [Coronado] inbounds the ball to a player who passes the ball to Alex Crawford, who shoots the ball with no time left on the clock and he makes it. [Coronado] wins 57-60,” he recounted.

“I didn’t watch Alex after the shot,” said Couture. “I don’t know why, but I turned to look at the [Orange Glen] head coach and I thought his reaction, knowing he just lost, was normal. He kind of dipped his head, turned around backwards and he walked back to the bench.” Going back and watching video footage, Couture says he can see the celebration among the Islanders team and fans, and Coach Laaperi waiting his turn to congratulate Alex Crawford who made the winning shot.

As Couture continued watching events unfold that night from the scorer table, he noted seeing Laaperi walking back to the Coronado bench at that point and what he describes as a “full-blown attack” from the young men he’d noticed earlier behind the Orange Glen bench. “These men, which I found out later, had identified themselves as a part of the coaching staff at the front entrance. I found out through video there were actually three [rather than two] young black men. One with a Chargers jersey, one with a flowered shirt, and one in a suit,” Couture described. “I don’t know why I didn’t recognize the one in the suit but I recognized the other two; they were the first two to lunge forward. I have not been able to identify their connection to Orange Glen. Their action brought the [Orange Glen] head coach, their assistants, and some or most – I can’t say all – of the Orange Glen players over to our side of the bench.”

From his vantage point Couture said he saw the head coach of Orange Glen try to stop their advance toward the Coronado bench at first, but then become part of the problem. “He disengaged from the attackers then decided to go forward to attack Coach Laaperi with a tirade of words; ‘You are a piece of [expletive]. You are low class.’ And in video I see he was saying many more things than that and pointing, and one of his assistants was actually holding him back during that time,” he explained. “At this point, fans, parents, and administrators are in the mix. I learned the Orange Glen scorer actually got up and pushed Coach Laaperi and other people in that mix. I called 911. The dispatcher asked if it had gotten physical and I said, ‘Not yet.’ There was some pushing but no one was punched or anything like that.”

Focused on the 911 call and amidst the chaos happening in front of him at the Coronado bench, Couture didn’t see the tortillas thrown in front of the mayhem. “I was now in the back of the mass of people. John Coolidge, a retired CUSD employee, grabbed the microphone and asked for the two teams to go to their benches. He also asked for the Orange Glen administrator to come and help separate the groups. This started to separate the groups and for the first time I knew who an official for Orange Glen was,” he mentioned. “He was in a pink shirt and in video I saw he was always the one holding back the young man with the Chargers shirt on. So he was fully engaged with that guy while the [Orange Glen] coach was fully engaged with not stopping anybody.”

“A picture speaks a thousand words and obviously we not only were there but we’re now able to see pictures and videos and things that had happened,” Couture continued. “First thing, tortillas did not bring Orange Glen to our bench. They came way over to our side, and you can see Coronado coaches instructing their players to get away from the danger and head to the locker room. Coronado coaches, staff, administrators, and parents are doing their best to separate the groups and protect the players and Coach Laaperi. I especially want to commend our trainer, Arielle Luna, the assistant coaches, and the administration, as well as some parents, for working hard to keep back the attack and keep players safe.”

“In terms of the tortillas, we all wish Luke Serna had not brought them to this event,” said Couture, who’s view of the events in context of the situation happening was that they were not used by the two Coronado students with any racial intent. “I concur with Coach Lull that when these two young 16 or so year old players saw that [Coronado staff] was being attacked, it was their way to ‘bark back.’ So they threw tortillas, not knowing the danger that people were in,” he said. “I did not see any players involved or interacting with each other. It was the adults that were interacting with each other.”

He saw Coronado players being vacated off the court towards the locker room and Orange Glen players, with nowhere to go, hanging back on the court and not getting involved with what was happening around the Coronado bench. From the scorer’s table Couture mentioned he noticed, “Coaches, parents, and fans were the ones engaging with each other, and the [Orange Glen] scorer (pushing people), which was amazing to me.”

When I had asked Couture what had made him decide to talk about his perspective of the game, he said it was due to what he saw happening in the aftermath in how the events were labeled. “I always wanted to make it clear to the CUSD board that the fact of what occurred did not warrant the words, ‘racism,’ ‘classism,’ and ‘colorism.’ I don’t think in my entire lifetime I’ve heard these three words put together in such a way. …When the school board used those three words and their sole focus was on that and nothing else, I couldn’t not say anything.”

As a teacher for many years in the Coronado Unified School District, Couture recalls many ways in which the importance of respect and character are woven into the core curriculum of being a student at CUSD schools. “To address Ms. Antrim, when did our students not get this training? I remember going into elementary classrooms and there would be posters on the walls about kindness and the pillars of character. I think now we’re using the Sanford Harmony,” he mentioned. “If someone were to be teased about having freckles, or being heavy, or too short or too tall, or whatever the reason is – it doesn’t have to be just about the focus of race – it’s about a lot of things that we have to teach young people. …[Ms. Antrim] mentions that we’re all striving to work to be better but at Coronado Unified School District we’ve always worked on those kinds of things in our classrooms.”

Couture, who has experienced injury at the hands of another school’s students for being a player from Coronado in the past, has been questioning what Coronado has done to earn a reputation as classist. “I’m concerned that Mr. Pontes mentioned that his friends feel that we feel like we’re elitist,” Couture said. “I didn’t look over to Orange Glen and look at their race, I just looked and said, ‘This is a good team. We are a good team. This is going to be a good game.’ What did we do to get a label called, ‘elitist’? This community shares its resources with all races and cultures. We share this beautiful place we call Coronado, and I don’t feel elite that I’m here; I feel fortunate I’m here.”

As an educator Couture has been in classrooms filled with a variety of multi-cultural students in Coronado and mentioned that never was he looking at a student’s race but at their character. “I can see why it’s upsetting about the tortillas. I get it,” he told me. “I don’t get why there’s this animosity because we live in Coronado.”

As decisions from the school board and CIF quickly came down against Coronado’s basketball team and athletes, Couture has been questioning if those involved with making those judgements truly had all of the facts at that time. “I’m still learning the facts,” Couture told me. “I’ve talked to many people at this event, and I’ve seen video and there would be no way you had all the facts on day one. We’ve been stripped of our title. We’ve been given other sanctions and have been given requirements to have racism sensitivity training for our coaches and administration. I’d like to know how we got ahead of it. I would like to thank Mr. Pontes for at least acknowledging that the three words may have been too much. Maybe ‘racially insensitive’ would have been a better way to describe this event.”

Independent investigations are currently underway from both schools, however were not immediately begun after the night of the final and results from either have yet to be announced. “I’d like to know where due process was,” Couture stated. “The state, CIF, the [school board] stated ‘after a thorough investigation.’ There was no thorough investigation. [They] made [their] decision on day one to fire the coach, put out the statement that they did…labeled the actions of two young players and one adult as ‘racism,’ ‘classism,’ and ‘colorism’…and CIF said they did a thorough investigation. There was no investigation [at either of those times]. I’m not justifying any words [Laaperi] may have said,” Couture added, “but I’d like to know where the due process was. Where’s the equity and justice in that, to use Ms. Antrim’s words. Only one side has had to deal with accountability. …What happens to them [OG] when they were the aggressors in this scenario? Do facts matter? I’m waiting for the investigation to come out.”

“There was obviously something between these two coaches,” he stated. “I mean for Coach Featherly to go totally off on this deal is not good. I feel like he caused a lot of this problem.” Couture wonders if the three men behind Orange Glen’s bench hadn’t started the charge toward Coach Laaperi if things would have escalated as they had. “Once they came across that line, [Featherly] came with them and then he changed who he was, his mode. He decided to let it all out; everything that he was feeling about Coronado and Coach Laaperi, he let out,” Couture said of his perspective of that moment. “But I didn’t hear everything,” he also mentioned, although as he has told the independent investigators he didn’t hear words exchanged from any of the other coaches aside from Featherly to Laaperi.

“I don’t think we’re addressing the aggression that occurred toward us,” Couture said of his frustration with the responses being focused solely on the tortillas. “Who comes to the other side to fight? That’s not supposed to happen and it’s not being addressed at all. If that had not happened, the tortillas wouldn’t have happened, the pushing wouldn’t have happened, words wouldn’t have happened. …There were other issues that could have hurt people. People could have been injured and I’m glad it didn’t happen.”

In summing up his experience during and after the State Championship game, Couture said, “First thing is that adult behavior is what caused this to occur. The second thing is Coronado was attacked, and not the other way around. Orange Glen was the aggressor.”

He reiterated the position this put Coronado’s players, coaches, and parents in, which jeopardized their safety. “Unfortunately the focus for this incident by the school board and CIF and the media seems to only be about the tortillas being thrown. Orange Glen was angry and aggressive way before the tortillas were thrown and they put us all in an unsafe position. This was unsportsmanlike conduct, coming from both sides,” Couture said. “[But] the aggression came from Orange Glen. I witnessed it at the scorer’s table from fans and from their own coaches. Using ‘racism,’ ‘colorism,’ and ‘classism’ to label this event, our team, our coaches, and our community is unacceptable. That’s it.”

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