Some of Cameron Labbato’s fondest soccer memories have occurred watching from the bench.
With his senior season at Lyons mere months away, Labbato cherishes the opportunity to add another set of highlights to the Lions’ storied program — this time on the pitch.
“My senior year means so much to me, to get out there with the guys I’ve been playing with for so many years is going to be special,” Labbato said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life.”
Whether from his spot on the Lyons bench or in the stands, Labbato grew up watching his local high school pile up victory after victory. Labbato is one of more than a dozen seniors on a talented team with IHSA state title aspirations.
Labbato carries a unique insight into the Lyons program, which serves as his driving force heading into his final prep season.
Cameron’s dad, Paul, has been the head coach for Lyons the last 13 years, compiling an impressive 235-60-18 mark.
Cameron Labbato has witnessed some of the best moments in the storied program’s history, dating back to the Lions losing a memorable battle to Neuqua Valley in the 2009 PepsiCo Showdown title match at Toyota Park.
“We’ve been a part of the PepsiCo Showdown since the very beginning,” Paul Labbato said. “Cameron has seen all the games.
“The kids in our community know this tournament very well and grew up going to PepsiCo Showdown Showcase Saturday. We used to host it, and the excitement of the PepsiCo Showdown is ingrained in LaGrange.
“The stories are amazing. It was such a special Saturday.”
Less than two months later, Cameron watched the 2009 team cap a memorable run by capturing the Class 3A state title. He had a front row seat to watch All-Americans Billy McGuinness and Chris Meingast beat Lake Zurich in an exciting overtime match.
“(Cameron) was on the sidelines running around like a tiny kid, just happy to be out there when we won it,” Paul Labbato said. “He looked up to those players. He befriended them.”
Five years ago, Cameron Labbato fondly recalls watching the Lions pull off a sudden death win over Libertyville to capture the PepsiCo Showdown title. He says all those memories of past glory are motivating him.
“I have a dream (scenario) for this year where we win the PepsiCo Showdown – since it’s been a few years – and then make a deep state run, if not go all the way,” Cameron Labbato said.
Whereas Cameron’s goals mainly center around championships, Paul Labbato prefers to focus on coaching his son for one final go-around.
“My wife and I are ecstatic just to watch (Cameron) get his chance at his last year and enjoy playing with his friends and the leadership aspect,” Paul Labbato said. “It’s all coming to a close this season.”
The delicate nature of the father/son/coach dynamic can often turn into a rubik’s cube situation for families, but that’s not been the case in the Labbato household. Despite spending his childhood dreaming of donning an LT jersey, Cameron Labbato waited until his junior season to play for his father.
He played for Lyons as a freshman, but then decided to play for a club team his sophomore season.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made to play (club), because I really wanted to play for LT,” Cameron Labbato said. “But it was the right decision for me.”
After a full season playing club, Cameron fulfilled his childhood dream by suiting up to play last season for his father. The long wait produced a memorable season, with the Lions defeating rivals Oak Park and Hinsdale Central to post a 15-4-3 record in 2019.
“Last season was special,” Cameron Labbato said. “One of my favorite memories was scoring a goal against Glenbard West that sealed the game.
“I could feel my father was really proud of me. One of the best things about my father is he’s always been by my side the whole time, so it was great to play for him.”
Paul Labbato couldn’t agree more.
“Being around him on a daily basis was special last season,” Paul Labbato said. “As kids get older, they start doing their own things.
“For us, it was great to share soccer together and be on the same sidelines. We have a really good soccer relationship.
“We talk soccer all the time. It’s been amazing for me, because I remember coaching the (current) seniors a long time.
“I’ve known all of them since sixth grade. We’re all excited for this season.”
Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 25 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.