Culture / Sporting Life

Beloved Former UH Baseball Player Killed in Kobe Bryant Helicopter Crash — Death of John Altobelli, His Wife and Daughter Leaves Several Communities Devastated

Baseball Lifer's Daughter and Kobe's Daughter Played on Same Youth Basketball Team

BY // 01.26.20

As word of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash spread through the University of Houston’s Fertitta Center Sunday afternoon, those in attendance had no idea that the tragedy would soon hit much closer to this campus.

When word came out that former University of Houston baseball player John Altobelli, his wife Keri and his daughter Alyssa, a player on the same travel basketball team as Kobe’s daughter, also were killed in the crash, a tragedy felt around the world suddenly became a giant Houston loss, too.

Altobelli was a two year captain on UH’s baseball team in the 1980s, helping lead a team that came within one win of a College World Series berth. He graduated from UH in 1987 with a degree in physical education and went on to become an ultra successful college baseball coach. The 56-year-old Altobelli coached at Orange Coast College for 27 years, winning more than 700 games and four state championships.

Just this last year, Altobelli was named an ABCA/Diamond National Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

“John meant so much to not only Orange Coast College, but to baseball,” Orange Coast College athletic director Jason Kehler said in a statement put out by the school. “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.”

Altobelli built his love of baseball at the University of Houston, even serving as a Cougars assistant coach in ’87, before going off to create a legacy for himself in California baseball. As a junior college coach, Atlobelli helped enable numerous players to gain scholarships at four-year schools. A number of his players ended up at UH.

“The Houston Athletics family is saddened today by the passing of John Altobelli,” UH athletic director Chris Pezman said. “John served as a team captain for our baseball program during his time as a student-athlete at UH and worked tirelessly as a coach at Orange Coast College for the last 28 years, developing many players that had the opportunity to play for our university.

“Our thoughts and prayers will be with John’s family in the days ahead.”

This is a baseball man who truly gave back to the game he loved. Coaching baseball at the JUCO level requires a true passion for the game — none of the attention and little of the money found in other levels of the sport reach the junior college level. But Altobelli found a place he loved and helped young men, kids really, there for 27 years.

“It’s just sad,” University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson said after his team’s Sunday game, before the Altobellis presence on the doomed flight was even known. “Makes today seem so insignificant.”

John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli were among nine people killed in the fiery crash with no survivors. ESPN reports that the helicopter was headed to a basketball game that Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna and Alyssa Altobelli were going to play in.

For more on the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash, click here.

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