During the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) weeklong announcement of the 2020 Special Awards, Orange Coast College's Tony Altobelli was recognized for his courage while performing under a most difficult situation as he was awarded the Bud Nangle Award. The award, which has only been given to three other sports information professionals, is presented to a member of CoSIDA or to an individual outside of CoSIDA who shows ethics, integrity and bravery under unusual or stressful situations while carrying out their job duties.
Altobelli is in his 14th year as Sports Information Director at Orange Coast College. He is a one-man office, handling all SID and game operation duties for 24 teams and is the longest-tenured sports information director in Coast's 72-year history. Prior to serving as the sports information director, Altobelli spent 15 years as a sportswriter, working for numerous newspapers in Southern California and some others in central Texas.
Yet nothing in his experience could have prepared him for the tragedies of January 26, 2020 and their aftermath. That was the fateful day of the helicopter crash that took the lives of nine individuals — the lives of three of Altobelli's family members and six others, including NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. Altobelli lost his brother, nationally-recognized Orange County baseball coach John Altobelli, and John's wife and daughter — Tony's sister-in-law Keri and niece Alyssa.
As spokesperson for the OCC athletic program, Altobelli immediately began performing his job in the crisis with bravery, courage and determination. In the early aftermath of the tragedy, Tony handled an enormous amount of international, national and local media demands, coordinating all publicity for the accident, putting together the school's official statement about the deaths of John, Keri and Alyssa, and meeting with staff, coaches and families of the baseball student-athletes. Two days after the crash, he prepared and coordinated a January 28 public service and remembrance of Coach Altobelli on opening day of the Orange Coast College baseball season, attended by a huge media contingent and over 2,000 fans, 40 times the typical attendance. Altobelli served as the emcee and public address announcer as well.
"To watch what Tony did in person was simply awe inspiring," said Jason Kehler, Orange Coast College Athletics Director. "We tried to get him some help so he wouldn't have to worry about the sports information side of things, but he insisted that he keep working. The level of professionalism he displayed during those first two weeks especially were second to none. It was amazing."
While serving as the crisis communications spokesman and in midst of the media crush, Tony also penned an emotional, poignant and humorous tribute to his brother entitled: Dear John … Thank you … Love, Toad.
Through it all, Tony has not halted his in-game SID duties, serving as the public address announcer, official scorer and scoreboard operator for each baseball game and at other OCC events. Altobelli and the Orange Coast College community continue to daily face the aftermath of the crash and the loss of their head baseball coach in their new reality.
Earlier this month, Altobelli was honored with the Brass Top Award from the California Community College Sports Information Association (CCCSIA), given to an SID at the community college level, or someone working closely with members of the CCCSIA, to recognize outstanding service and accomplishments. He served as President of the association from 2009-11.