By: Angela Greco
NBA Hall of Famer Ray Allen famously said, “I’m always ready to step up and take that shot.” Some may call it arrogance, but given his track record, you could more eloquently call it confidence. Enter new department chair, Justin Labagh. The man who reluctantly stepped up to the plate when duty called, with pedigree to boot.
With the athletic department recently shrunk due to cuts, men’s basketball coach Justin Labagh has gracefully taken on an additional role as department chair. Previous chair holder Dan Hayes announced in May of this year that he was stepping down amid his retirement. Of course, this news happened to fall on the heels of an unprecedented pandemic year; a year of poor numbers due in part to no in-person classes, which ultimately resulted in cuts to both budgets and staff. When asked how the decision came about, Labagh simply said, “Someone had to do it.”
There had been a vote, one that seems to have been based on trust, transparency and lack of anyone else as willing to do it. Hayes stepped down in May. By June 1st, Labagh started what he called a “whirlwind of craziness.”
After the vote, the ballot was counted, collected and passed on to human resources. After pushing through a year filled with uncertainty, the tight-knit group of instructors, trainers, and coaches that make up what is left of the department had unanimously fought for a return to campus, along with someone willing to fight for that request.
“Overwhelmingly, every single one of them wanted to come back. So then I just went to work,” Labagh said.
Labagh said the hardest part is actually getting everyone back, with the additional challenge of meeting new protocols put into place from the COVID-19 pandemic. One challenge was forming an “R2C” (return to campus) plan and adapting to a seemingly endless onslaught of obstacles that continuously fluctuate based on the ever-changing restrictions Labagh said.
Yet, Labagh recognized how resilient the sports department is and continues to be so during this time. They are a department with natural tenacity, one which comes with a good worth ethic and a strong desire to win.
Labagh said, “I’m dealing with a lot of competitive people here. All the faculty in our department that were granted classes were like, ‘let’s go through it and see what you can get done.’”
Men’s basketball associate head coach Adam D’Acquisto has faith that the morale of the department is on the up and up, despite coming off a frustrating year. In a sense, they are hoping that this is as low as things get so at this point it can only get better.
“Obviously the cuts are very frustrating, the administration cutting the wages of people is very frustrating,” D’Acquisto said. “But we can either sit around and complain about it or keep plugging through and follow Justin’s lead and have faith that we’re gonna get back into a better position.”
One area that Labagh is not worried about is obtaining his current role as the men’s basketball head coach. Not only is there a strong level of trust within the staff, but he and his coaching staff have been together since the day Labagh took over the coaching program more than twenty years ago, calling them a “well-tuned engine.”
One of Labagh’s greatest challenges will be defining the athletic department’s strategy going forward. However, as a traditional hotbed of innovation and ingenuity, there are expectations that he will guide the City College program with renewed optimism and vigor. Through adversity comes opportunity, and we remain a beacon of light in a dark time.