By Rick Assad
Like your favorite mailman, restaurant, coffee shop, doughnut shop, movie theater, book store or sports bar, Mike Graceffo has been a longtime fixture in Burbank.
Armed with an easy smile, a hearty handshake and an outgoing personality, Graceffo has been employed by the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department and coached youth sports for more than four decades.
How did this journey begin? “I actually got started coaching when I was a junior at Burroughs High,” Graceffo said. “I had just started working at Park and Rec and Gordie Martin, who at the time ran the Youth Sports Programs for Burbank Park and Rec, asked myself and a couple of other guys if we would coach a youth baseball team. I was playing on the Burroughs baseball team, so I thought it would be fun.”
Graceffo, who attended Los Angeles Valley College and Pierce College where he majored in Business and minored in Recreation, added: “So Craig Sherwood and I coached the team,” he said. “We were 17 and we were coaching 14 year olds. We had a blast and won the league.”
So like the mighty Mississippi River, which keeps rolling along, Graceffo, who made the Valley College baseball team, but didn’t get to play after his appendix burst on the operating table, has been at it ever since.
Does Graceffo, whose wife Julie has been a teacher in the Burbank Unified School District since 1992, ever think about what it would have been like to not coach or work for Park and Rec?
“If I didn’t work for Park and Rec, I’m not sure what I would be doing,” he explained. “Maybe I would have gone into classroom teaching and I always wanted to be a policeman. I started Park and Rec when I was 17 in 1975 and worked with them until January of 2016.”
When Graceffo, a lifelong New York Yankees fan along with being a Miami Dolphins, University of North Carolina, Los Angeles Angels and UCLA fan, rests his head on the pillow at night, he is content.
“The most satisfying thing about coaching and working for Park and Rec all those years is the fact that I feel I made a positive impact on children’s lives,” he pointed out. “It’s so satisfying when a kid you coached comes back and says, “those were some of the most fun times of my life.” Also to see these kids grow up to be fine young productive people in society.”
What does Graceffo, who was coaching the Burbank freshman baseball team until the games were halted because of the COVID-19 outbreak, want to impart to these young athletes?
“I hope that I’ve instilled in my players that it’s more important what you accomplish off the field than on it,” he said. “Also that you can achieve anything you want if you believe in yourself and work hard. Finally to never, ever give up or be afraid to fail.”
Everyone has someone they look up to, who inspire.
Who is that for Graceffo, who played catcher and center field at the high school?
“The late Russ Johnson, who was an athletic director and coach at St. Finbar, Dave Galarneau, who was the athletic director at Providence High, and of course John Wooden, were three people that influenced me with their values and how to treat people,” he said.
Having coached for so long, does Graceffo, who lives in Burbank, have a team or teams that stood out?
“My favorite teams were my three frosh championship basketball teams at Burroughs and the four SCMAF (Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation) title teams and the three CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) Finbar title teams,” he said. “The reason is because all of those teams had a desire to work hard, be the best, play together and leave their egos at the door.”
Graceffo added: “Also my 2011-2012 frosh Burbank High basketball team that went 12-2 and won the Pacific League title,” he noted. “This team was loaded with talent and for the most part they all bought into the team-first concept and each accepted their role.”
How about a professional high-water mark? “The biggest highlight was working with Michael Jordan for nine years at his Flight School Basketball Camps,” Graceffo said.
What makes for a successful coach? “I feel to be a good coach you need to listen to your players, adapt to the talent and to your team needs, change with the times, make it fun, give your players the opportunity to excel and to achieve their goals, and be able to motivate and relate to your players,” Graceffo said. “You also have to be flexible.”
Most coaches have a philosophy. What is Graceffo’s? “Make it fun for my athletes, teach them good values and sportsmanship, teach them to be a good person on as well as off the field or court and to always give 110 percent and never give up or quit,” he said.
Any regrets? “I don’t think there is much I would have done differently,” Graceffo said. “I’ve been very blessed to have coached and worked in a profession that I have loved and still do.”