Lagana Starts New Chapter as President at Notre Dame High School
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
No one has a deeper love and appreciation for the City of Angels than Sam Laganà, so when he was named CEO and President of Notre Dame High School back in February his vision was to help build what he believes is already the preeminent co-educational Catholic preparatory high school in Los Angeles into the best school in the country.
That might seem like an overly ambitious goal, but setting high expectations and rising to meet them is what has defined Laganà throughout his distinguished career in education. Since arriving on the Sherman Oaks campus in July, he has infused those around him with the pride and enthusiasm of being a Knight.
“It’s truly an honor to be selected as the president and chief executive of Notre Dame High School,” Laganà says. “I’m excited to have begun fully embracing, promoting and expanding the mission of student success and the commitment to educating the mind and heart. I look forward to working with the faculty, staff and stakeholders to build on the efforts to advance the finest cross-cultural, diverse, coeducational Catholic high school in greater Los Angeles.”
Before staring his tenure at Notre Dame in the 2021-22 school year, Laganà served as the associate vice chancellor at Pepperdine University in Malibu. He fully believes his 20 years of experience at an NCAA Division I christian college will be invaluable as he transitions to the high school environment.
“People have asked me why I would leave a university to come to a high school but the reality is that the freshmen and families that I was talking to when they were coming to Pepperdine were the same people who were leaving here [Notre Dame],” he explains. “I needed to understand where they were coming from to give them hope as to where they’re going and to explain to them how their foundational cores can help them in their vision. Now I can help develop their foundational core and yet have knowledge as to what that next experience will look like and feel like for them when they get to it. I spent some time talking to people who have gone to school here or who have been parents here and what resonated with me most is that this Catholic-centered institution has served LA since 1947 and I have the opportunity to help magnify what is good about the school and assist in leading it towards more greatness and building more programs that help students in the future. The real difference is the role I have—to set the vision and the mission and to make sure everyone is on the same page, shining the armor all the time.”
Laganà is a lifelong resident of Pacific Palisades, where he and his beloved wife Eileen are active members at Corpus Christi parish. Their two daughters Cambria and Cienna both attended Catholic schools. He has served on the boards of the Palisades-Malibu YMCA, Pacific Palisades Chamber of Commerce and American Legion Post 283. In 2007 he won the Mort Farberow Award as “Businessman of the Year” in the Palisades and in 2011 he received the Pacific Palisades Community Council’s annual Golden Sparkplug Award for his efforts in working with city officials to replace clogged curbside storm drains in his Marquez Knolls neighborhood. He has a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University and a master’s degree from Pepperdine.
For the last five years he has also been the stadium voice for the Los Angeles Rams—a dream job for a football fan who rooted passionately for his hometown team as a kid. In fact, one of his most prized possessions is a ball signed by defensive end Deacon Jones, a member of the Rams’ famed “Fearsome Foursome” in the 1960s.
“I went to my first Rams game with my dad when I was a boy and remember sitting on the press box side at the 40-yard line in the Coliseum,” Laganà recalls. “They played the Bears and I kept the program for a very long time. In fact, I might still have it in a box somewhere.”
Laganà was ecstatic when the storied NFL franchise moved back to Los Angeles from St. Louis and even more thrilled when he was named the public address announcer. He came up with the slogan “Rise with the Rams” and uses it to fire up the fans before every kick off. He is excited that fans will get to experience the team’s new arena, SoFi Stadium.
“I just kind of put it out there to some of my friends in the sports world that I’d love to be the stadium announcer and I guess word got around because the next thing I knew they sent me copy to read,” Laganà confesses. “I sent them back five or six audio clips on my iPhone and they must’ve liked what they heard.”
In the 1980s, Laganà managed numerous sporting events while directing promotions and public relations for the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour. He was known as the “voice of beach volleyball” into the 2000s and was an announcer for Davis Cup tennis, Cal State Northridge football and the LA Avengers of the Arena Football League for 10 years. One of his classmates at Palisades High was Jeanie Buss, currently the controlling owner and president of the LA Lakers, and the two remain friends to this day.
Laganà served as Executive Director of the prestigious John R. Wooden Award from 1996-01 and spent one term as National Director of Sports at the renowned Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles in 2002. He handled the duties of Director of Athletics while serving as Associate Director of Athletics at Cal State Dominguez Hills from 1993-96 and he served as Assistant Director of Athletics at Northridge from 1989-1993 amidst the Matadors’ transition from Division II to Division I for NCAA athletics.
“What’s the most significant thing I can do for Notre Dame?,” Laganà asks.”The person who is going to realize that is in kindergarten right now because what we’re doing is not overnight—it’s a process. We want to build a better performing arts center, build out a precinct for co-curricular activities. How do we provide better resources? How do we make sure we’re educating the next generation of great Americans in the Catholic tradition? That doesn’t mean everyone here will be Catholic. There are people of all different faiths here, but we’re coming to this from a Catholic point of view which is to evangelize Jesus Christ and that’s woven into the fabric of everything we do. God, country and Notre Dame should be part of the foundational core of this institution. We have people of all traditions, all walks of life that teach here. We look like Los Angeles on every front. That’s what excites me. Making this a place that puts faith, hope and love in the hearts and minds of young people so that their experience is foundational.”
According to Laganà, the objective of administrators and educators is twofold.
“First to prepare these terrific young people for college and second to give them a solid foundation from our Catholic tradition that allows them to develop their life skills and be more relevant in their lives,” he says. “You get that focus, you start building community and connectivity, then you’re going to thrive. The academics are extraordinarily high here, the arts are extraordinarily high, the athletics are extraordinarily high. Everything this school does is done at an extremely high level. We have students coming from the very top of Santa Clarita to the very bottom of the South Bay, from Ventura, Pasadena, the Westside, Simi Valley, San Fernando, even San Gabriel Valley—we’re drawing from all of these different areas. We’re serving Los Angeles and we’re doing it better than many. We need to provide funding for those who otherwise may not be able to afford to go to a school like this. We want the best students wanting to be here and competing at the highest level with one another and with themselves. My hope is that when they get to college they’re leading their class and helping other people along because they’ve been prepared for that college experience better than others. LA is our first lily pad… now our mission is to be the preeminent Catholic school west of the Mississippi and all of the USA.”
Laganà has already begun exploring ways to make alumni throughout the Southland more aware of school activities and incentivize them to attend Knights athletic events in their area. He is also seeking ways to increase busing to and from campus. He feels called to be at Notre Dame and trusts his boundless energy and enthusiasm will rub off on everyone he interacts with—students, faculty and staff alike. “Raising the bar” is the name of the game and his motto is simple: listen, learn and lead.
“Excellence is a part of the mantra of what we do,” Laganà concludes. “We’re not trying to catch up, we’re leading. I have to help lead our board to make sure I’m taking this school in the direction they want it taken. Next year we’ll celebrate the 75th anniversary of this school. We’ve been a resource for Los Angeles for a long time and we need to keep that umbrella up and bring people into the shade and into the family so they feel good about our school.”
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