May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

OCC baseball coach John Altobelli, wife and daughter die in crash that killed Kobe Bryant and daughter

Former OCC baseball coach John Altobelli gives a talk to his players. (Photo courtesy OCC Media Relations)

Long-time Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli was among the victims in Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas that also killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, college officials confirmed Sunday.

OCC officials confirmed that Altobelli’s wife Keri and youngest daughter, Alyssa, 13, were among the nine victims. Kobe Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also among the victims.

UPDATE: Baseball game will be played Tuesday, coach honored

Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the Altobelli’s were on their way to Calabasas for a youth basketball game. John Altobelli’s daughter and Kobe Bryant’s daughter were on the team.

The likeable, highly-successful Altobelli, referred to as “Coach Alto” was about to begin his 28th season as the Pirates head coach.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli,” OCC officials said in a statement. “He was a coach, a colleague, a mentor and a friend at OCC for 27 years. 

“John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” said Athletic Director Jason Kehler. “He truly personified what it means to be a baseball coach. The passion that he put into the game, but more importantly his athletes, was second to none – he treated them like family. Our deepest condolences go out to the Altobelli family during this time of tragedy.” 

Associate Coach Nate Johnson will take over leading the team for its season opener if it is played Tuesday. The college spokesperson said a decision will be made Monday on whether to play the game vs. Southwestern at 2 p.m. at OCC.

About 30 Orange Coast College baseball players gathered on the field after noon today, according to an OCC spokesperson.

“The players and coaches gathered there and there was a real show of support by the assistant coach Nate Johnson,” Kent Watanabe, assistant coach at OCC told OC Sports Zone. “He opened up the field for the players because everybody rushed down there.”

The release from OCC noted that Altobelli led the Pirates to numerous conference and state championship titles with more than 700 wins during his career and four state championships.

In 2019, he was honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association as an ABCA/Diamond National Coach of the Year, “a testament to his incredible work ethic and passion for the game,” officials said.

He was was a mentor to his players, often playing a key role in positioning student athletes to obtain scholarships to play at the four-year level, according to the release.

“We have lost a member of our OCC family, and our hearts are broken,” says OCC President Angelica Suarez. “Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus – a beloved teacher, coach, colleague and friend. This is a tremendous loss for our campus community.”

Watanabe said he was informed of Coach Altobelli’s death Sunday afternoon.

He said that Altobelli and Kobe Bryant knew each other through coaching their daughter’s basketball teams and were headed to Calabasas for a basketball tournament.

“It’s just utter shock, as soon as I heard the news, I froze,” Watanabe said. “I didn’t know how to take my next step. That’s how I felt. He was the best I’ve ever worked with.”

Watanabe said that Altobelli had an “understanding of people and how to get the most out of everybody. He was very, very good at what he did.”

Long-time Orange County high school baseball Coach Bob Flint got to see first hand the impact that Altobelli said.

After the death of catcher Jourdan Watanabe, a former Northwood High standout who went on to play at Orange Coast College before he died at the age of 20 in 2009. Flint recalled how Altobelli supported the Watanabe family after their son’s death.

“John pulled the family into the OCC family,” Flint said. “He added Coach Watanabe to the coaching staff, put number 22 on all our state title rings. You can see number 22 at the yard. After that tragedy, the way he handled the club in relationship to the loss of Jourdan Watanabe was so good

“I had so much fun at OCC, and you and I know, that has a lot to do with the man in charge. The baseball community is pretty amazing. Texts, calls, and E-mails are flying around. I’ve spent most of the day replying to baseball guys. I so thankful and proud to be a member of this gang of great guys, who I know have rallied around John’s death.”

“To be on the field when we won the state title, was quite a thrill; thanks to John Altobelli.”

John Altobelli and Keri Altobelli are survived by their 29-year-old son J.J. Altobelli, who played baseball at Woodbridge and their other daughter, Lexi, 16, according to OCC officials.

Orange Coast College media relations contributed to this story which will be updated throughout the day

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone.com; timburt@ocsportszone.com