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San Jose City College Centennial: Coach Terri Oberg-Hearn

Head San José City College Women’s Basketball Coach Terri Oberg-Hearn, known as Coach O, has very local roots. She grew up in Campbell and first attended West Valley College, playing on both the college’s basketball and softball teams. She transferred to Cal State Fullerton to play softball, where her team won the national championships her senior year. She then decided to play professionally in Parma, Italy. She enjoyed exploring Europe while playing for the team, and after six months she decided it was time to move on to the next phase of her life. 

She came back to the San José area and went to San José State to get her master’s degree to coach athletics. She had her athletic training hours at Santa Clara University, and then was the assistant coach under Tom Martinez at San Mateo College for a year before becoming San José City College’s first female athletics coach. She was hired right out of graduate school and only days before City College’s semester started in Spring 1989. The women’s basketball program hadn’t won a game in 3 years. 

Over the years, she built her teams by recruiting local players, whom she calls her “kids,” to play

Coach Terri Oberg watches the Lady Jaguars play against Feather River Eagles – Jeff Chiu, SF Chronicle

their first two years of college at San José City. Always an advocate for her student athletes, she ensured they had what they needed to be successful. She impressed upon new recruits how City College’s outstanding faculty, staff and administrators would be there to support them as they navigate through college as a student and a player. She highlighted to parents City College’s emphasis on ensuring every student athlete had what they needed to succeed in college. She recruited many great players to play at City College where her teams have posted a 92% graduation rate with many players in the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. 

Her hard work cultivated into what she called “a magical season” in 1998. She had the honor of leading her team to the State Championship game where they won. She was named Coach of the Year a few months later. Coach O became the second basketball coach in City College’s history to win a State Championships basketball game. The first was in 1960 with Coach Jim Padgett and his men’s basketball team almost 40 years earlier.  

Today, Coach O has two sons who are both very successful. The oldest is a successful businessman in San José. The youngest is following his dream to play baseball for the Colorado Rockies. Coach O herself was just inducted into Cal State Fullerton’s Hall of Fame in February 2022 for being on the 1986 National Champion softball team with 39 runs batted in and a .275 batting average for the season.

For City College, Coach has gotten her team to the State Championships four times – her team won one, and had a heartbreaking loss at the buzzer the following year. She is still excited every day to go to work to do what she loves with people she considers her extended family. She looks forward to retiring someday to play more golf, but first she wants to get her team out on top one more time. 

As San José City College celebrates its centennial year, we caught up with City College’s pioneering Coach O about her over thirty years’ coaching experience at City College and to find out what she sees for the future. 

Everybody asks, “how’d you get into basketball?” It’s just where a job opened up for me. I almost had a job at Monterey Peninsula College. I was in the top three, and they hired a baseball guy. Then San José City opened. This was right as I was finishing grad school. I got called in for an interview, and I had my final interview with President Byron Skinner. He was the one who hired me.  

I didn’t have a lot of teaching experience then, being just out of grad school. Yet City College’s basketball team hadn’t won a game in three years, so my selling point was, “in 10 years, you’re going to be happy you hired me.” They took a chance on me, and I thank God they did, because I love City College. I love it. Hopefully, I panned out.   

“I really believe my biggest success has been my players in the classroom! It is amazing how many of my student athletes have matriculated to the four-year college while being an athlete. So many have graduated from college in a total of four years!”

Coach O

Bert Bonanno was an awesome Athletics Director. He was so instrumental in a lot of what happened in athletics and on San José City College’s campus. Whatever you needed, Bert was there to help you find a way to make it work. I think that’s what made it easy as a new coach, especially being a female coach. I could go in his office, close the door, and say, ‘Okay, Bert, what do I have to do here?” Or “how do I need to get this done?” He supported women’s athletics and wanted the best for all sports.  

His biggest thing was he always wanted fulltime coaches, and I think that was huge. I still think it is, because I think our athletes lose out otherwise. It’s not that part-time coaches aren’t as productive because they have another job, but because fulltime coaches can give 100 percent to their student athletes at that college instead coming in to work only from four to five. 

Another thing I liked about Bert was he brought in other people from the college. When I first started at City, he had a lot of on-campus connections who were well-versed with so many of the college’s departments. During staff meetings, he would bring in counseling and the president. He built a family for us to reach out to. It’s because of that that I have a lot of fond memories of knowing so many colleagues and staff members.  

Literally on Mondays, I would bring my coffee and go over to counseling to talk to Chuck Southward and Judy Rookstool. Then I’d go to financial aid and talk to Diane Klein and Irma Cornejo. You made your rounds. We all knew each other and had a connection that was more than just being in athletics or counseling. I still talk to those people today. They’re all retired, but they’re still very good friends. 

I felt Bert brought an environment where you diversified and got to know everybody. I think that’s probably one of the biggest attributes and one of the coolest things about San José City College. You have staff, faculty, all the way to custodial – everybody’s there to help each other, and you knew each other a bit more on a personal basis. We were an extended family. I could go to any of them – financial aid, counseling, instructors like Chuck Hunter, Dr. D, or whomever, and say, “Hey, I need help with this,” and they would do anything to help our student athletes, to help me, to help better our programs. We all did it together. The extended family is what’s been so great about San José City. I go in every day thinking, “I love my job. I love the people I’m with.” I miss them immensely with the pandemic. That’s been really hard. 

Top image: 1998 Women’s Basketball State Champions – San José City College Lady Jaguars! Coach O is top left. Bottom image: San José City College women’s basketball team hosted the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team late in 1997. Both teams went on to win championships the following year. Volunteers Coach Pat Summitt signed the picture, “To the State Champions from the National Champs.”

When I first started, I was a young gal just out of grad school trying to figure out how to coach kids who really weren’t that much older than me. I joke with everybody saying, I’ve been here 31 years, but I started when I was 12. 

Debbie Huntze-Rooney, City College’s softball coach, was hired a year or two after me. We’ve known each other since we were nine years old. It’s been awesome to have someone I grew up with to work together to cultivate a women’s program here. Debbie’s done a fantastic job with her program. It’s been a great experience. 

Debbie and I played softball together at West Valley. Then Debbie went to teach high school down in LA. It was then that City College hired me. Soon after, the college’s softball coaching position opened. Bert asked me if I wanted to coach softball or stick with basketball. I decided to stick with basketball, because I felt it was a challenge for me as a coach. Since he needed to hire a softball coach, I said I had the perfect gal for it. I called Debbie and said, “our softball coaching position is opening. You’d be perfect. Come back,” since her family lives here. Debbie came for the interview and got the position soon after. 

And Percy Carr was City College’s men’s basketball coach for 45 years before he retired. He is a great guy. I really miss him. We worked hand-in-hand since we shared the same facilities.  We always had our battles because we were in the same facility, but we worked well together. He’s another legend. I think one thing Percy would say that I would think he’s the proudest of, is a lot of his players got into coaching. If you look across the state today, many of the players he coached are now community college coaches. They followed him. Even our current men’s basketball coach, Devin Aye, played for him, which I think is awesome.  

When I was first trying to recruit kids to come to San José City, it was tough because DeAnza and a lot of the nearby programs were already established. I had to turn that around, and I worked really hard to do that. I think my biggest struggle was that I was a softball player. The question became, how am I going to help kids get to the next level when I only played basketball at a community college level?  

So, I had to really network at first. I went to the Final Fours and things like that to get to know the four-year coaches and to have them believe that I knew what it took to play at the next level in basketball. There were those kinds of challenges, and I had a different coaching style. My former kids tell me, “Coach, you’ve gotten too soft since you had your boys!” When I first started, I was a red-hot charge, a get-after-them type. Those kids could take it in those days. It’s changed a little bit now.  

“Coach Teri Oberg at San José City College is one of the best coaches at any college level. I think she could easily be coach of an NCAA Division I team, but family keeps her in San José. She was fabulous at getting Natalia and all her players to work toward their full potential. Coach ‘O’ was a tough taskmaster, but also really got to know her players and had a real understanding and great love for each of them. We’ll forever be grateful for the experience of being part of her program.

Lynda Jonas mother of player Natalia Jonas from The Mercury News, March 2012

All that work paid off when I got Arbatisha Kitchens to play with us in 1998. When I got Kitch to come to City, I thought, “if I can’t win a State Championship with this girl, I’m never gonna win one.” I really felt that, because she was so talented. In those days, I was able to talk some of the parochial kids into coming to a junior college, which is really, really difficult now, because parents are spending so much money to send their kids to the four-year.  

But I was able to get Kitch. Her travel ball coach was looking at junior colleges in the area and wanted to get her out of the projects in Jersey. We couldn’t recruit out of our area, but her travel coach spent a year watching all the community colleges. She contacted a couple of us, and then Kitch and I hit it off.  

It was funny because I called Kitch back east. She lived with her grandmother, and I just pictured this movie. I was returning her call around seven in the morning, and I could hear her grandma hollering out the window, “Kitch! Arbatisha! Coach is on the phone!” Then I waited. And I kept waiting and literally waited almost 30 minutes. I was getting really mad. Then I heard Kitch come in and get on the phone. She was breathing heavily, and said, “sorry, it was game point. I had to finish.” And I thought, “I gotta have this kid.” 

We just hit it off, her and I. That year, I had Kitch and six division-one kids. I had a kid, Nina Vinther from Denmark who had been going to Los Gatos High School and was very good, along with the parochial kids Cortney Keegan and Tami Monson. We just had a great squad. It was a magical season and we got to the State Championships.  

One of my best memories about the Championships was being at lunch with my kids the day of the Championship game. One of the kids said to me, “Coach, we got this.” And I said, “you guys, you gotta have a little luck.” And they said, “Coach, we don’t need luck. We got this.” I said, “No, you always got to have a little luck. We’ve got the team, but we need luck.”  

During the game, just before halftime with 10 seconds on the buzzer, we were only up by three. One of my kids, who never shot a three-pointer, came down and hit a banker five feet from behind the three-point line. It banked in. I’ll never forget, she comes running to me, and she jumps up and bear hugs me and goes, “There’s your luck!” I always will remember that. That was our luck! The kids remembered that, too. She almost knocked me out, because she kind of hit me square in the face saying, “There’s your luck, Coach! We got this!” We came back from halftime, and we won. 

In your lifetime, you never know if it’s going to happen. There are so many great coaches who have never won a State Championship, and that’s not really what it’s about. But I was fortunate to have that group of kids. I’m fortunate to be able to say, I’m one of those ones who was able to help my team win a State Championship. The players did it; they were just an outstanding group of young women.  

Watch a 2019 San José City College women’s basketball game against Las Positas College.

The same year we won State, Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Volunteers won the national title. I got a call that they were playing Stanford and needed a facility. Of course, I was over the top as a coach to have Pat Summitt coming to little San José City College. She came in with her entourage, and my kids got to meet her team. We all took this big picture. Later, I saw her at a book signing, and I asked her to sign the picture. She wrote, “To the State Champions from the National Champions.” I’ll never forget having Pat Summitt here and seeing how that whole operation worked. With everything she had done, she was always one of my favorite coaches, especially for me as a young female. She was a pioneer in women’s basketball. It was such a highlight to have her come to our gym at San José City College.

Currently, I am fortunate to have one of my biggest mentors – Bob Burton coach with me! Coach Burton retired from Cal State Fullerton and has been absolutely wonderful with the team and our staff the past few years. We feel very blessed to have a longtime successful coach be a part of our program.

It’s hard to narrow down all the student athletes who have stood out over the years. There are just so many. There was Cortney Keegan from St. Francis High who took a chance coming to a junior college. She played for me for two years, was Player of the Year, and went to USF. She graduated in two and a half years there and is now a fulltime ICU nurse. She has four kids, and I’m still in touch with her and her parents.  

Bobby Joe Ellis played two years for me. Everyone said she couldn’t go to the next level. She ended up getting a full ride to Regis University. After she graduated, she got her master’s degree. Bobby Joe was one of my assistant coaches on my State Championship team and is back as my assistant currently. She also teaches at City College and is a high school teacher. My other assistant Lauren Adamek played for me and transferred to Menlo College to play; she currently teaches in San José. 

Tiffany Scaglione was from Leland High. She now lives in Arizona. She said she was only going to play for me for a year, because she wanted to go the four-year. I kept saying to her, “Tiff, if you stay around another year, you really could go big time. She said, “Coach, I gotta go.” I’m like, “Okay, okay.” We had been at the State Championships, which we didn’t win that year, and were coming back home. I was driving the van, and it was pitch dark. Then I hear her say, “Hey, Coach.” I said, “Yes?” “I’m coming back.” And I was like, “Yes!”  

“There are so many [players] that touch your life and make a difference, many who are still there and you’re proud of. My kids are very successful today, which is awesome.”

Coach O

She became Player of the Year and got a full ride to the University of New Mexico. Her team went to the NCAA Sweet 16. I flew in to watch her playoff game which was at the Pit. In those days, the Pit would always be sold out. But for a women’s game to be sold out was … wow. I didn’t sit the whole game. When the women’s basketball team came out, the place erupted. It was just amazing. Your heart. I mean, I almost had tears coming down just to watch her compete in that arena. She’s now a mom of two girls, married and successful.  

Another is Renetta Conyers. Netta came in as an average student and really turned things around. She went into marketing and research, and is a successful young gal. She worked for Facebook for a while, traveled the world, and recently started her own company. I just love her to death. I remember she was the first player I had who got her nose pierced. She had a bandage on it. I said, “What’s that?” I didn’t know what that was in those days. She said, “Coach!” She was so embarrassed. She didn’t want me to see it.  

Regina Sankey is a recent player who really struggled in high school. Reg wasn’t really interested in school. She came and got her program done here in two years and went to Cal State East Bay on scholarship, where she graduated in psychology. Sometimes they struggle at first, and then they realize what their potential is when they really focus.  

I’m very fortunate to be able to coach a specific student athlete. To watch those gals come in, I call them ‘little baby Jags,’ and you see them just blossom into confidence. They come in maybe not knowing what they want to major in, and when they leave, and this might sound so cliché, but you think to yourself, “they’re women now.” They say, “I’m going to major in this, and I’m going to do this.” They have a plan. A lot of my kids graduate from City and go to the four-year, going to UCLA, Arizona State, USC, New Mexico State. I’ve had them go to all different levels.  

Top left: Players Bobby Joe Ellis and Renetta Conyers. Top middle: Regina Sankey playing for CSU East Bay. Top right: Keegan Flood playing for University of San Francisco. Bottom left: Arbatisha “Kitch” Kitchens playing for the Arizona State Sun Devils Bottom right: Tiffany Scaglione playing for New Mexico State.

There are so many that touch your life and make a difference, many who are still there and you’re proud of. My kids are very successful today, which is awesome. Any coach will tell you, what’s bigger than any win or any State Championship are those relationships, seeing those kids and keeping in touch, getting the Christmas cards. There are just so many amazing kids over the years. You hate to leave some out, because there are just so many good memories.  

One thing I love about these stories is, people can get to know athletics in a different light, because sometimes we take some of the brunt in people’s perspective of athletics. People don’t realize a lot of what we do is a core to helping all students be successful in the community – we’re a learning community. I really believe my biggest success has been my players in the classroom! It is amazing how many of my student athletes have matriculated to the four-year college while being an athlete. So many have graduated from college in a total of four years!    

My program, oh, we were so good. I have had a few struggle years since then, where the program hasn’t been on top like it was. It’s hard now, and I think a lot of female athletes are choosing not to play because they just don’t want to anymore. In my day, you always wanted to play as long as you could, because you knew you were going to go to work the rest of your life. That’s what I tell kids, “You’re going to work the rest of your life. You want to tell your daughter someday, ‘Hey, I played ball.’ Maybe you won’t play after you graduate, but when somebody is very good at something, that’s their craft. Basketball is your craft, use that to help you get through school.” Before I retire, I want to get us on top again, but doesn’t mean I would trade the kids I have. They’re working hard, getting their degrees, and being successful, and that’s really what it is all about!

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