COSTA MESA, Calif. — Two days after losing their beloved coach in a helicopter crash, Orange Coast College’s baseball team prepared to play their season opener as scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 28 — honoring Coach John Altobelli with an on-field ceremony beforehand.
Coach Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and his youngest daughter, Alyssa, were among the nine people killed — along with NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna — Sunday afternoon when the helicopter they were in crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, California.
Altobelli’s players at the Southern California community college voted Monday to keep their season opener against Southwestern Community College, scheduled for 2 p.m. PT Tuesday, the Orange County Register reported.
Altobelli, who led his Pirates to their fourth California community college championship last year, was to be honored in a ceremony 15 minutes before Tuesday’s first pitch.
“Please spread the word and let’s get as much love and support into Wendell Pickens Field as (we) can. We all sure could use it,” the school in Costa Mesa wrote in a post on Facebook.
Altobelli compiled a 705-478-4 record in 27 seasons at OCC and was named national coach of the year in 2019 by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He coached OCC to the state semifinals eight times and won seven conference championships.
He was ‘always excited to ride with Kobe’
Alyssa and Gianna, both 13, were basketball teammates at Bryant’s Mamba Academy. They were flying to their basketball game in Thousand Oaks, and Bryant was expected to coach.
The Altobellis had flown with the Bryants to games before.
“He was always excited to ride with Kobe on the helicopter,” Nate Johnson, Altobelli’s assistant coach at OCC, told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday. “This wasn’t the first time that he or Alyssa or Keri went on this flight, so he was telling us on Saturday that he was going up to Thousand Oaks and get to ride the helicopter with Kobe, and Sunday morning, I was just kind of sitting around in my apartment with my wife, and one of my friends texted me and said, ‘Hey, did you hear about Kobe?’ I was like, ‘No, what?’ He goes, ‘Well, his helicopter went down,’ and my heart sank because I knew Alto was on that.”
Kobe Bryant brought out Alyssa’s love of basketball
Altobelli was very proud of Alyssa’s basketball exploits, Johnson said.
“He shared everything. I knew every game. I knew every practice that Alyssa was a part of, and he was so proud of Alyssa and so proud of what she was doing,” Johnson, now OCC’s acting head coach, said. “She found a love for basketball, and Kobe brought that love out for her, just like he did for a lot of people, and Alto was — he was so happy that she was able to get coached by someone that was elite. Alto is an elite person, as well, and I think that’s why Kobe latched onto the Altobelli family. They were elite, and Kobe, obviously, being elite, he found that family to be someone that he could invite into their inner circle and Alto and Keri and Alyssa, those three, they were special.”
Altobelli leaves behind a daughter and a son
Altobelli was a “giant on campus,” OCC President Angelica Suarez said Tuesday.
“He loved his students, his colleagues and he loved this college, and this loss has broken our hearts,” Suarez said. “It is a tremendous loss, one that will be felt for years to come.”
Altobelli is survived by his daughter Lexi, 16, and his son J.J., a 29-year-old scout with the Boston Red Sox.
Orange Coast College established a memorial fund to help the family.