Hall of fame basketball coach Joe Lafko steps down at Hampton

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 | 6:42 PM


Saying it’s time to “figure out the next chapter,” WPIAL Hall of Famer Joe Lafko has stepped down as Hampton boys basketball coach.

Lafko, who led Hampton for the past 28 seasons, told his players and first-year athletic director Mike Gavlik on Wednesday afternoon that he wouldn’t be returning.

“I’m tired,” Lafko said. “I’ve been a head basketball coach and a teacher for 34 years. I have not known another lifestyle. I think I’m at a point in my career — and my personal life — where it’s time to step back and let someone else be the voice of Hampton basketball. I look forward to having time with my wife Shannon and figuring out the next chapter of our lives.”

The 58-year-old Lafko posted a record of 548-331 in 34 seasons, including the past 28 at Hampton, where he went 489-251. He also coached at District 10 Warren for six seasons before taking the Hampton job in 1996.

“I don’t know what the future is going to bring for me,” Lafko said. “I’m not going to rule out coming back to coach somewhere again at some point. But at this time, I do need a break.”

The Talbots are coming off one of the best seasons in program history, going 25-5 and advancing to the WPIAL Class 4A finals and the PIAA semifinals with an all-senior lineup.

Lafko’s teams reached the WPIAL championship game eight times, winning the program’s lone district title in 2009, and advanced to the PIAA semifinals four times. They have reached the WPIAL playoffs 20 consecutive seasons.

“It was only a year, but Joe is the type of coach you hope to have as an athletic director,” Gavlik said. “It was a pleasure working with him. I told him, ‘I wish I’d have gotten a couple of more years with you.’ But I totally understood from his perspective that it was his time and he was ready to make that move. I respect that.”

Lafko said he will remain as a high school history/social studies teacher and will continue to run summer camps and a 3-on-3 outdoor summer league.

The decision to step down wasn’t sudden. Lafko had lost his mother and father in a 13-month span in 2022-23, as well as his father-in-law and a brother-in-law.

“It started to creep into my mind in the past couple of years,” he said. “I began to reflect a little bit on how time is being spent. Near the end of this season, in my heart, I made a decision that this year going to be it.

“It was something that I didn’t take lightly, and I gave it a lot of thought.”

Lafko was a three-sport star at Frazier and still holds the state record with 37 career interceptions, including 22 in one season. He is the school’s all-time leader in scoring with 1,779 career points in basketball, including 54 in one game, and played baseball and basketball at Westminster College.

He had a brief stint as a UPS driver, but coaching and teaching became his life’s work.

Lafko arrived at Hampton nearly three decades ago, replacing another Talbots Hall of Famer, Tom Jewart. Hampton shared the section title in Lafko’s second season and became a consistent winning program, including five trips to the WPIAL title game in a six-year span from 2009-14.

He gave a special mention to his assistant coaches, including Bill Cardone, the former longtime Hampton AD who retired last year, as well as Rich Mathieu, Steve Lodovico, Jerry Ferrone, Don Colton and Joe Cangilla.

“We’ve enjoyed tremendous success,” Lafko said. “It was a great fit for me. I am so blessed and grateful to have an opportunity to coach and teach in the Hampton Township School District.”

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