In addition to taking the life of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, yesterday’s tragic helicopter crash took the life of 3 members of a loving family, baseball coach John Atrobelli, his wife Keri Altobelli and his daughter Alyssa Altobelli.
HoustonChronicle reports the Orange Coast Pirates baseball team huddled in the dugout on Sunday afternoon, some teary-eyed, some hugging, as they contemplated the question before them: Would they play their season opener on Tuesday?
They had seized the state championship last year, and by all accounts, the game this week was supposed to be a joyous start to a fresh season. Instead, the junior college baseball team faced tragedy.
Most of the world mourned a deadly helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday for the loss of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter. But for Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa, Calif., the incident hit far closer to home. Among the others killed in the crash was John Altobelli, its beloved head baseball coach.
A revered sports figure in his own right, Altobelli, 56, led the college to more than 700 victories in 27 seasons, including four state titles, and coached several baseball players who would go onto the major leagues.
Altobelli grew close to Bryant while their daughters competed together on a basketball team coached by the five-time NBA champion. Both families were headed to a tournament in Thousand Oaks, California, when the helicopter carrying them crashed and burst into flames.
Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa, also died in the crash, the college said in a statement. The family is survived by two other children, son J.J. and daughter Lexi.
Tony Altobelli, John’s younger brother and OCC’s sports information director, said his older brother’s demanding but caring approach earned him deep respect from his players and fellow coaches on the Pirates. Following the team’s most recent state title last season, the American Baseball Coaches Association named him national coach of the year.
“At the end of the day, every player knew he was there to support him and love him,” Tony Altobelli told the Los Angeles Times. “He did everything he could to make them successful.”
On Sunday evening, family, friends and players gathered at the OCC baseball field to remember “Coach Alto,” as they called him. The home plate was covered in baseball caps and flowers.
“If you’re out here and you played for him, or you’re parents, you know: Alto was one of the best men I’ve ever met,” Nate Johnson, the team’s associate head coach, told a crowd of about 150, as he fought back tears.
In an interview with ESPN, Johnson called John Altobelli “his own Kobe of the junior college baseball world.”