Joe Lafko had quite a career at Frazier High School before graduating in 1984. Good enough to get him into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.
Lafko is part of the WPIAL’s 2015 Hall of Fame class that will be inducted at a banquet on June 12 at the Green Tree Doubletree Hotel.
He is perhaps best known now as the highly successful boys basketball coach at Hampton, where he won his 400th game as a coach this season.
Fayette County natives, though, remember Lafko more as an athlete. He was best known as a basketball player. Lafko scored 1,779 points during his basketball career with the Commodores, including 54 in one game, but his story doesn’t end there.
Lafko still holds the WPIAL record with 37 career interceptions as a defensive back in football, including 22 in one season. Lafko also caught 119 passes as a receiver as a senior on a team that played for the WPIAL championship.
And the shortstop batted .537 as a junior on the Frazier baseball team. He also played basketball and baseball at Westminster College and was inducted in the Titans’ Hall of Fame as a basketball player in 1995.
“I’m very humbled and honored to be a part of it,” Lafko said. “I was very fortunate to be able to play all three sports at Frazier.”
He was also fortunate to have the quality coaching at Frazier that made him the athlete he became.
“There is no doubt about it,” Lafko said. “When you look at my playing experiences, I was very blessed to have coaches like I had. They gave me the opportunity to utilize the talents that God gave me, plus we had some good teams there at Frazier.”
He played at a special time at Frazier. His football coach was Tom “Woody” Salisbury, who had Lew Sweitzer as an assistant. In basketball, the head coach was the legendary Henry DiVirgilio and the assistant was Lafko’s dad, also named Joe. The Frazier baseball team was coached by Joe Gessner, who went on to coach baseball at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
“Lew coached defensive backs and wide receivers,” Lafko said. “Both guys were instrumental in my development as a football player. To have that many interceptions, we had to be ahead in games. We only lost two games my last two years, we were 11-1 1982 and 12-1 in 1983. Ray Ciferno was our quarterback and he was very good. He threw for over 4,000 yards in his career and I caught passes for over 2,000 yards.”
DiVirgilio died within the last year, but Lafko is happy and proud that his father will be there when he is enshrined in the WPIAL hall.
“I’m very happy he’ll be able to be there with us,” Lafko said.
Also part of the Lafko contingent will be his son, Joey, a 1,000-point scorer scorer who is a senior at Hampton and, you guessed it, played for his dad.
“He has chance to play in college,” Lafko said of his son, who will likely choose between Juniata, Geneva and Mt. Union. “It was a great opportunity, coaching Joey. He’s a very good basketball player. He was All-Section player, made the Fab 5 in north Pittsburgh and he’s playing in all-star games at Char Valley and in Roundball Classic.”
Lafko is married to Shannon Blott Lafko, a 1990 Westminster graduate, and they have two children, 18-year-old Joey and Jenna, a 15-year-old sophomore who is a starter on the girls’ varsity team at Hampton.
Actually, Lafko has a chance to become a rare double-eshrinee in the WPIAL Hall of Fame. With over 400 coaching wins, the day may come when he is enshrined as a coach.
“I guess I could be, God willing,” Lafko said. “This is for high school and college playing years. God willing, we will keep going and keep winning.”
He just finished his 18th season at Hampton after coaching for six years at Warren High School.
Lafko is being enshrined as part of a very good class of seven athletes, four coaches and two teams. The other athletes are Missie Berteotti, Jeff Christy, Paul Failla, Gina Naccarato, Kaitlyn E. Orstein-Fife and Tom Tumulty. The coaches are football’s Joe Hamilton, basketball’s Ed Olkowski, swimming’s Corky Semler and basketball and cross country coach Dave Warner. The teams are Penn Hills’ 1990 girls basketball team and the Kiski Area football team from 1971.
Also being honored are Heritage Award recipient Tito Francona, contributor Howard Crawford, official Kathy Ridilla and Courage Award winners Jaime Vick Moran (posthumously) and Ellen Toy.
“I’m really proud of my roots from Fayette County and Frazier,” Lafko said. “And I’m proud to represent the area, Frazier and Fayette County, in the WPIAL Hall of Fame.”