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Pearl River Central coach earns 1,000th career win

Tony Labella has been coaching softball and girls basketball for 24 years across Louisiana and Mississippi, and this year tallied his 1,000th career win.

The victory came against the Stone County Tomcats March 26 in a game that ended in an 11-5 win for the Lady Blue Devils softball team.

Labella’s coaching career started in the recreational leagues of New Orleans where he coached amateur teams while working at a newspaper.

However, after realizing how enjoyable it was to mentor young athletes, he knew a coaching career was calling his name, so he took his first coaching gig and didn’t look back.

Labella’s journey has included stops at Cabrini (New Orleans), Chalmette, Belle Chasse and currently Pearl River Central.

Over that time he’s racked up an impressive total record of 1,006-510 between softball and girls basketball over a total of 47 seasons between the two sports.

Other achievements across the two sports include 24 district titles, multiple state titles, two time state coach of the year awards and 24 district coach of the year awards.

However, even after all the wins and accolades, Labella is humble about his milestone, even if it’s a feat rarely accomplished.

“I knew at some point when I was at PRC I’d be getting close to 1,000 (wins), but I didn’t tell the kids about it. (The Stone County game) was an emotional game for us and the last thing they needed to hear was that it was some milestone for their coach. All it really says is that I’ve been coaching two sports for a long time more than anything philosophical,” Labella said.

This journey started thanks to a principal who took a chance on hiring an unproven assistant to lead a basketball program.

“Frances Dee Tarantino was the principal at Cabrini High. The opportunity she gave me in 1995, when I was only 27-years-old, to hire me and take a chance; nothing would’ve happened unless she gave me that opportunity. She ended up eventually leaving and taking another job, but I always thought I owe a lot to her. I haven’t see her in awhile, but making that call literally changed the course of my career. I’m really thankful to God and to her that it worked out that way,” Labella said. However, coaching wasn’t a foreign concept to Labella given his upbringing.

Labella’s father, Tony Jr., played semi-professional baseball, his mother Kay was a supervisor for a New Orleans recreational playground and coached every sport imaginable and Labella’s uncle is Hank Tierney of Louisiana coaching fame who is currently the head football coach at Ponchatoula and one of the winningest coaches in Louisiana history.

“When I went from teaching to coaching I was following the path of the family. (Tierney) is definitely the biggest coaching name in the family. I always joke I have a long way to get close to him, but it’s kind of an in the family thing,” Labella said.

Labella’s success on the field and in the gym can’t be questioned, but coaching means more to him than just wins and losses. Over the years Labella has coached hundreds of athletes and left them with lessons and memories that’ll last a lifetime.

It may not be an obvious thing, but the impact of a coach goes far beyond statistics.

“Two months ago I got a call from a kid I coached in 2005, maybe 2004, and she was asking advice about where her daughter should play travel ball. I hadn’t talked to her in 10 years, but then right away it was like, ‘Coach remember when this happened?’ It’s neat when you talk to them years later and they say, ‘Coach we had a positive experience,’” Labella said.