Hampton basketball readies for rare coaching search

Saturday, April 20, 2024 | 11:01 AM

For only the second time in the past 46 years, Hampton is searching for a new boys basketball coach.

Athletic director Mike Gavlik said the district “is not going to rush into something,” as it looks to replace longtime coach Joe Lafko, who resigned April 17 after winning 489 games in 28 seasons.

“We’ll digest what’s going on,” said Gavlik, in his first year at the school. “We’ll come up with a plan of attack and we’ll start to go through the process to find our next head coach. I don’t have a definitive timetable. But we’re not going to rush into something.”

Hampton has had only two boys basketball coaches since 1978: Lafko and Tom Jewart, whom Lafko replaced in 1996. Both are in the Hampton Hall of Fame.

Gavlik said Lafko’s departure — which wasn’t completely unexpected — and the ensuing coaching search shouldn’t disrupt any offseason workouts or leagues.

“We already have things in place as far as making sure the kids have continuity in the program if they are going to play in any spring or summer leagues,” Gavlik said.

One possible candidate for the job is Lafko’s top assistant, Joe Cangilla, a former Hampton player with head coaching experience (Northgate).

Whoever is hired will have big shoes to fill. 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. A WPIAL Hall of Famer and former multi-sport star at Frazier and Westminster, Lafko also coached at District 10 Warren for six seasons before arriving at Hampton.

“I was always impressed how the times have never passed him by,” said Hempfield coach Bill Swan, who has known Lafko since their days at Westminster. “He kept up with the times. He gets along with kids. He’s just such a first-class person. I think the world of him as a person and a coach. The WPIAL is losing a good one.”

Said 6-foot-8 senior center Liam Mignogna, who will walk on at Pitt, “He helped me be the best player I could be. He helped me a lot. He always had a really good game plan. He was always on top of things.”

Lafko informed his players of his decision on April 17, saying “It was something that I didn’t take lightly, and I gave it a lot of thought.”

In the end, Lafko said it was “time to step back and let someone else be the voice of Hampton basketball.”

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve been a head basketball coach and a teacher for 34 years. I have not known another lifestyle. … I look forward to having time with my wife Shannon and figuring out the next chapter of our lives.”

Lafko said he will stay on as a history/social studies teacher and will continue to run summer camps and a 3-on-3 outdoor summer league. He didn’t close the door on a possible return to coaching.

“I don’t know what the future is going to bring for me,” he 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 their best seasons, going 25-5 and reaching to the WPIAL Class 4A finals and the PIAA semifinals with an all-senior lineup.

Lafko’s teams played in the WPIAL championship game eight times, winning the title in 2009, and advanced to the PIAA semifinals four times.

Gavlik, who arrived at Hampton this summer from another strong basketball school, Chartiers Valley, said Lafko is the “type of coach you hope to have as an athletic director.”

“I told him, ‘I wish I’d have gotten a couple of more years with you,’ ” Gavlik said. “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 started to seriously consider stepping away after he lost both parents in a 13-month span in 2022-23, as well as his father-in-law and a brother-in-law.

“I began to reflect a little bit on how time is being spent,” he said. “Near the end of this season, in my heart, I made a decision that this year was going to be it.”

By the numbers

Joe Lafko resigned as Hampton boys basketball coach on April 17 after 28 seasons

Record at Hampton: 489-251

Overall record: 548-331

WPIAL title game appearances: 8

WPIAL titles: 1

Consecutive playoff berths: 20


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