On Sunday, NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California.. John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at junior college powerhouse Orange Coast College, was also among those killed in the crash. OCC athletic director Jason Kehler confirmed the news Sunday afternoon.
"John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball," Kehler said in a statement. "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."
Altobelli's wife Keri and daughter Alyssa were also killed in the crash, OCC says. Altobelli's daughter and Bryant's daughter were on the same travel basketball team and the helicopter was traveling to a game, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
"We have lost a member of our OCC family, and our hearts are broken," OCC president Angelica Suarez said in a statement. "Coach Altobelli was a giant on our campus - a beloved teacher, coach, colleague and friend. This is a tremendous loss for our campus community."
Altobelli was the longest-tenured coach in OCC history and was about to enter his 24th season with the team. He won over 700 games and led OCC to four state championships. Altobelli was named the Orange Empire Conference Coach of the Year five times and twice he was named State Coach of the Year.
In addition to his work at OCC, Altobelli had also managed the Brewster Whitecaps in the prestigious Cape Cod League from 2012-14. Aaron Judge, Scott Kingery, Michael Lorenzen, and Jeff McNeil are among the current MLB players who played for Altobelli with Brewster.
"He's one of the main reasons I'm still playing professional baseball," McNeil told ESPN's Jeff Passan. "He took a chance on me, kept me the whole summer. Him taking that chance on me, having me on his team, got me drafted."
OCC assistant coach Nate Johnson, now the interim head coach, told The Athletic's Fabian Ardaya the team plans to play its season opener Tuesday as scheduled. The players want to stick to the schedule in Altobelli's memory.
Prior to coaching, Altobelli starred as a player at the University of Houston, taking the Cougars to the brink of the College World Series while serving as team captain as a senior in 1985.
Altobelli is survived by his son, J.J., and another daughter, Alexis. J.J. Altobelli played briefly in the Cardinals farm system from 2012-13 and is currently a Red Sox scout. On Monday, the Red Sox issued the following statement, and noted that they will be providing J.J. with financial (here's a link to a GoFundMe set up by the team) and emotional support: