Tag Archives: Mike Graceffo

Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps Are Filled With Joy, Enthusiasm

By Rick Assad


An overcast sky gave way to an early morning sun as a dozen boys ages six through nine excitedly took the field for the fourth day of the first session of the Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps at Burbank High on Thursday.

Dressed in baseball caps that ranged from the Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, each attired in a blue Bulldog T-shirt, armed with sleek aluminum bats that were game-used and brand new and topped off with sleek-looking, pro-styled gloves, the group that included Landon Bailey, Grant Baker, Leo Beebe, Kalin Chin, Clarke Crowther, Kyle Doche, James Gentile, Max Recchia, Ryan Recchia, Dominick Sheetz, Clark Stanis and Dale Vantrease, eagerly took the field.

When asked if it’s fun to participate at the camp, Baker answered in the affirmative. “Of course,” said the nine-year-old who plays Little League for the Ninja Tigers and has a game on Saturday. “We did all kinds of games like over-the-line and four corners.”

For the dozen kids at the Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps, it’s time to stretch. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Overseeing the camp is Bob Hart, the longtime coach of the Bulldogs along with assistant coach Tony Ciccone.

“I just enjoy instilling the joy of the game to them,” Hart said. “I find that very pure. Very simple. Adults can be complicated. Kids aren’t that complicated.”

Hart said some players actually began at these camps.

“I’ve had kids in my program currently that were in these camps,” he said. “There’s a lot of immeasurable amount of satisfaction in watching a kid who struggles early in the camp and then watching him evolve by the fifth day to the point where his self esteem starts to skyrocket and he feels like he has a place. He’s a contributor. Everyone wants to contribute. These kids are no different.”

Also assisting was Mike Graceffo, a longtime coach in Burbank, who retired from his job at the Parks and Recreation Department in 2016.

Five of Hart’s players were also there lending a hand and they included Jakob Duarte, Oaklee Spens, Justin Robinson, Josh Balos and Curtis Peters.

Here’s a youngster about to take his swings. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Spens has volunteered for these summer camps and has been assisting since he was a freshman.

“Yeah, it’s really fun,” said the junior center fielder who batted leadoff for the Bulldogs of working at the camps. “You kind of get to go back to how you grew up and see how they grow up. You get to teach them. It’s nice to give back.”

Spens then talked about how he developed a love for the game.

“I started really little,” he noted. “My grandpa started teaching me at a really young age. He’d take me to the park and I fell in love with it. It’s full circle.”

Duarte has also been involved with the camps since he was a freshman. “It gives you an opportunity to give back to the program a little,” said the junior first baseman/pitcher. “When I was a kid I went to these camps and thought it was really fun. Yeah, there’s a commonality between me and the kids. It’s still baseball.”

The three-hour camp began with the youngsters running around the baseball field just like the big-league players.

Then four lines with three boys in each line was formed as each stretched to make sure their muscles would be ready for the day’s activity which began with short toss.

It’s all about the team and of course teamwork. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Next on the agenda was the formation of three teams of four as each threw the ball to the next boy.

Once that was over there were two teams of six boys in a straight line as they each threw the ball to the next boy.

The winning team was judged by how fast and accurate the tosses were.

What followed was a simulated game with a Bulldog player taking a  knee and then tossing the ball underhand as each boy took his cuts.

If the ball was hit between the cones, it was a single. If it went further down the line, it was a double, but if it was caught, it was an out.

A young camper gets ready to field a grounder. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

The day was capped with Graceffo, who has been a Burbank-area coach for 41 years, tossing the ball underhand to the boys in another simulated game, but this time running to the bases.

“I love it. I love just being with the kids. They keep you moving. They keep you young. I just love coaching baseball. They’re just so full of energy and life and they’re brutally honest,” Graceffo said. “They just love it. They just love being out here. There’s no motive with little ones. They’re just out here to play and have a good time.”

Graceffo then added: “One of the biggest things I find enjoyment in coaching is seeing kids develop,” he said. “Kids that I coached when they were six years old and now they’re young men doing great things in society and doing great things in their city and giving back to their community.”

There were a few breaks in between as the boys ate ice pops, drank water, talked about movies and of course baseball and baseball trivia.

There are three more sessions and boys and girls are welcome and will be held on June 17-21 for ages 11 through 14, July 15-19 for ages 6 through 10 and July 29-August 2 for ages 11 through 14.

For those parents interested, they can to go to www.burbankhighbaseball.org for more information.

Graceffo Retires From City, Will Join Boys & Girls Club

After 41 years with the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department, Recreation Coordinator Mike Graceffo has retired.

A longtime fixture at Verdugo Park, Graceffo’s last day was Friday. But the 58-year-old will not be leaving the community. He will begin a part-time position with the Burbank Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley next week.

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“I think I was just ready for something different,” Graceffo said. “It wasn’t anything on the city’s part. They were awesome.”

Graceffo had been working for the Parks and Recreation department since before he graduated from Burroughs High in 1976. In addition to his regular job, Graceffo has coached many youth sports teams in the community and has also coached at Burroughs and Burbank highs, St. Finbar and St. Francis Xavier Parochial schools.  He is still coaching at St. Francis Xavier and is a member of the Catholic Youth Organization Hall of Fame.

Graceffo said the Boys and Girls club will give him an opportunity to do what he really loves to do.

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“This sounded like something that sounded fun. It brings me back to my roots when I first started with the city when I was programming,” Graceffo said. “I love the programming aspect.  I’m too wired and hyper. I have to be mobile and moving and being with the public. I like running programs and being outside.”

Graceffo said he has received lots of support.

“Wow. The end of truly remarkable era,” former Burroughs and University of Washington quarterback J.K. Scott wrote on Instagram.

Wes Hutchison, a former star baseball pitcher at Burroughs who later played in the minor leagues, also thanked Graceffo on Facebook.

“Thank you for being a positive influence on thousands of humans Mike,” Hutchison said. “You are a class act and an awesome human! Bless your future endeavors! It was a pleasure growing up in the Burbank parks and working for you!”

Graceffo said he has so many memories that he will take with him.

“Out of the 41 years I worked with Parks and Rec, I can honestly say, 40.99 (years) of the time I was happy,” he said. “How many people can actually say that about their jobs?”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Graceffo said he hopes to continue his summer MVP basketball camp, other endeavors and perhaps get back into high school coaching.

“I’m hoping that if the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to get back into it,” he said.


15th Annual MVP Winter Basketball Camp a Success


The 15th annual MVP winter basketball camp was hosted by the City of Burbank Parks and Recreation Department on December 22 and 23.

Close to 50 young boys and girls participated in the two-day event coordinated by Coach Mike Graceffo.

Here are a few photos from the camp-



Burbank Dolphins Finish Runner-Up in SCMAF State Tourney

Burbank Dolphins (Photos courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

Burbank Dolphins (Photos courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

The Burbank Dolphins “A” division team lost a heartbreaking state championship game to host Pasadena, 21-20, taking second place in the SCMAF State tourney. The Dolphins won the San Gabriel Valley SCMAF tournament to advance to the State tourney which was held at Villa and Jackie Robinson Parks in Pasadena.

The Dolphins defeated Downey, Saddleback Valley and Duarte to set up the showdown with Pasadena. The Dolphins finished with an overall record of 21-1. They won the Burbank league championship, won the Burbank tournament championship and won the San Gabriel Valley SCMAF title.

“We had an awesome season and I am so very proud of my players and coaches,” Coach Mike Graceffo said. “They played and coached like true champions all year long.”


The wins keep on coming. After completing an undefeated 15-0 campaign and winning the championship for the Burbank Park and Recreation District, the Burbank Dolphins took their talents to the next level and again came out victorious.

The Burbank Dolphins won the San Gabriel Valley A Division SCMAF (Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation) football title by defeating San Marino, 24-14, in Azusa on Sunday. They defeated Arcadia, 52-6, and Azusa, 30-0, to advance to the championship game.

Led by Coach Mike Graceffo, a clone of Bill Belichick in youth flag football, the Dolphins will now advance to the SCMAF state tourney which will be held in Pasadena starting the weekend of December 6. With the SCMAF tournament title in hand, Burbank improves to 18-0 on the season.

The team is led by quarterback Jonathan Topete, running back Joseph Augustine, defensive end Duncan Smith, receiver Nicco Chuidian, receiver/safety Chance Van Hook, receiver/safety Jake Panikowski, tight end Carter Kessinger, and guard/defensive end Patrick Shashaty.

Will these Dolphins win the state title? We wish them well. Best of luck to our Burbank boys.

Flag Football Flourishing for Burbank Park and Recreation

2014 Burbank Dolphins (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

2014 Burbank Dolphins (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

By Dick Dornan
myBurbank Sports Editor

NOTE: this story has been revised and updated since it ran in September of 2012.

Hark the days of our childhood when many of us played flag football. Those were the good times. Sure we would find some time to play tackle football without pads and other times a simple game of “two-hand touch.” But there was always something special about playing flag football.

At any position on the field, we could be who we wanted to be. Maybe I could be Joe Montana at quarterback or even “Mean” Joe Greene at defensive end? It was a game of simplicity and grace and it brought out a smile in each of us.

Burbank Dolphins listen attentively to coaches' instruction (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

Burbank Dolphins listen attentively to coaches’ instruction (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

High School football might take center stage on a Thursday or Friday evening at Memorial Field and Pop Warner on a Saturday at Burbank High, but it doesn’t get any better than wrapping that flag belt around your waist, inserting your mouthpiece and wearing your jersey with pride.

Flag football is alive and well here in Burbank. It’s thriving and it’s here to stay. One visit to Verdugo Park or Foy Park on any weekday evening and the memories come rushing back. The noise of whistles in the air, enthusiastic yelling by the players, positive encouragement by the coaches and cheering amongst the fans are just a fraction of the sights and sounds reasonating throughout Burbank.

“There is a lot of excitement this year,” said Jason Dyer, the City of Burbank’s Recreation Coordinator. “We’ve also had some free camps and clinics and will continue to have them throughout the season.”

Burbank Dolphins work on passing drills (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

Burbank Dolphins work on passing drills (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

Burbank Park and Recreation has done a tremendous job in continuing the success, tradition and enjoyment of flag football. Dyer said there are 30 to 40 percent new kids participating this year.

Twenty-four teams are separated into three age brackets (Grades 2 – 4, Grades 5/6, and Grades 7 – 9) and two divisions per bracket (NFL and AFL). Each game features 8-on-8 with every player being eligible on offense. Each player plays the same amount of time. Most importantly for many parents, there isn’t any hard hitting or tackling. The emphasis is on learning the fundamentals of the sport and the rules of the game.

“You get to learn the game without getting hit. You learn how to move your feet and learn how to play each position,” Dyer said. “You want to be able to come out here and play and not worry about an injury that might eliminate your career this young. There is a need for both (tackle and flag football) and I think both can co-exist which is great.”

Coach Mike Graceffo (on the left) is assisted by longtime friend, Ken Bailey (in the middle) Photo by Ross A. Benson

While teams come and go at the youth level, there is one constant in Burbank. The Burbank Dolphins and Coach Mike Graceffo are synonymous with flag football in this city. They have been a fixture of Burbank Park and Recreation for more than 30 years. Graceffo is a pillar of strength in the sports community.

“I love sports and I played all the sports when I was a kid. This is my way of giving back to the community a little bit,” said Graceffo, who has coached in this league since the late 1970’s. “I love flag football because you can open it up. Everyone is eligible to catch a pass. It’s an offensive dream and a defensive nightmare. It’s just a fun game.”

Graceffo’s love and passion for flag football and youth sports does not go unnoticed. He has gained the admiration of many former players who keep in touch with him to this day as well as coach by his side as an assistant.

“Mike Graceffo is awesome. I’ve been able to play for him and coach with him,” said Kenny Knoop, defensive coordinator for the Burroughs Indians. “I still work with him to this day with our schools and PE. He’s still right there in my life.

Burroughs defensive coordinator Kenny Knoop played for the Burbank Dolphins in 7th and 8th grade (Photo by Dick Dornan)

“I absolutely love the Burbank Dolphins,” Knoop continued. “I still go to games and see Mike (Graceffo) and Ken (Bailey) on the field. I started football with the Burbank Dolphins. That was my introduction to football. They are definitely still in my heart.”

“Mike taught me how to be a competitor, how to love sports and to be a team player,” Burbank Dolphins Orange assistant Mike Mersola said. “He is kind of like the fabric of the city and the Dolphins program is a fabric of the youth. My memories of it were the best times of my youth. Coaching now is really rewarding. It’s an honor and a privilege.”

It’s nice to win but victories are the last thing on the mind of Graceffo and his staff. It’s about teaching his players how to play the game of football properly while making it exciting at the same time.

Knoop played tackle football for the first time in ninth grade at Burroughs High. He credits his flag football experience as a major reason for successfully preparing him for the high school level.

Burbank Dolphins condition during a summer practice (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

Burbank Dolphins condition during a summer practice (Photo courtesy of Mike Graceffo)

“Flag football helps you with the concepts of moving in space and travelling and attacking a person. Two kids running into each other isn’t what football is all about,” Knoop explained. “As a kid I learned how to attack a target, move lateral, cross the field to get where I was going and learn the angles of the game.

“The basic fundamentals of hand-eye coordination, catching, throwing and blocking were all there without smashing into somebody. I am a true believer that tackling in football is an attitude. You don’t have to have pads on to do that correctly. I am a big advocate of kids in flag football. They are learning all the basics of the game.”

Many kids who played flag football first before tackle during the middle school years later became successful at the high school level and beyond.

Burbank Dolphins: Pride and Tradition for many years

Burbank Dolphins: Pride and Tradition for many years

These Burbank Dolphins alumni include Kenny Knoop, Carlos Baker, Todd Dellutri, Ryan Bowne, Dylan Mersola, Joe Cesta, Mike Cesta, Matt Pentecost, Jabbar Craigwell, Brian Kaloustian, Kyle Creamarosa, Keith Jarbo, Richie Ramos, Bobby Machuca, David Machuca, John Jay, John Wagner, Mike Wagner, Ryan Buchanon, Finnbarr Geary, Freddy Keeler, David Escobar, Migual Armendariz, Joe Ungos, Shane Clark, Seth Oseransky, Dillon Disiere, Jake Micioni, Jon McGinley and Josef Topete to name a few.

Approximately 95 percent of these players went on to star in high school football without having played tackle until their freshman year. Thus, flag football is a great way to begin one’s journey on the gridiron. The future of flag football is bright in Burbank.

Burbank Park and Recreation will be hosting a high school night at a Burroughs and Burbank High football game this season and there will be an end of the season finale that includes punt, pass and kick, and a ceremony honoring the champions, runner-ups and sportsmanship winners for this season.

14th Annual MVP Summer Basketball Camps Begin

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The 14th Annual MVP Summer Basketball Camp begins Friday.

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“We will help get you to the next level and improve your total game: defense, shooting, offense, team play, footwork, rebounding, and knowledge of the game, while having a great time doing it,” Camp Director Mike Graceffo said.

This camp has always been successful with Graceffo and his staff providing personal attention to each camper as they coach and teach the fundamentals of the game. Drills, contests and games highlight the camp.

Dates are July 11-13 and 25-27 for boys & girls grades two through nine. For more information, please see below.

MVPCamp-Summer 2014


13th Annual MVP Basketball Camp a Summer Success

By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor

The 13th Annual MVP Summer Basketball Camp for grades 2 – 4 and 5 – 9 concluded last week. More than 100 young boys and girls came to Luther Middle School to learn the fundamentals of basketball from Camp Director Mike Graceffo and his staff.

Each camper was assigned to a team where they focused on individual instruction such as shooting, passing, ball handling, rebounding, defense and offense. The teams practiced together and then played games at the end of each day.

Graceffo and the entire Burbank Park and Recreation department did a wonderful job of sharing knowledge and advice on the game of basketball. For 13 years this has been a great opportunity for kids to learn the game of basketball and make new friends.

Below are photo galleries of the two basketball camps. The first set of photos is grades 5 – 9 and the second set is grades 2 – 4.



10th Annual MVP Winter Basketball Camp A Major Success

Campers pose for a quick group shot. The camp was held at Luther Burbank Middle School over a three day period (Photo By Craig Sherwood)

By Dick Dornan
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor

With more than 60 campers in attendance, the 10th Annual MVP Winter Basketball Camp sponsored by the City of Burbank’s Park and Recreation Department concluded last week with plenty of excitement and fun.


Campers mix it up for a rebound (Photo By Craig Sherwood)

“It’s been a really fun week where we could play basketball games and work on stuff,” said Joseph Augustine, 11, who attends St. Francis Xavier. “It’s fun to play against your friends.”

“We’ve learned how to shoot; and to play defense and offense the correct way. We also learned how to dribble with your head up and how to shoot free throws the correct way,” added Beth Wilke, 12, a student at Jordan Middle School. “We did a bunch of drills to help improve our basketball skills.”

Augustine and Wilke were one of 65 kids in grades fourth through eighth who came out to the camp at Luther Burbank Middle School. MVP Camp Director Mike Graceffo did a wonderful job of coordinating the three-day session by emphasizing a theme for each day that focused on fundamentals and team play.

“I just feed on this. I love the energy and the enthusiasm of the kids. It’s about the kids not the egos,” Graceffo said. “We are trying to teach the kids the proper way to play with fundamentals. At the same time, I want the kids to have fun. That’s what it is all about.”

The camp ran from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Wednesday through Friday of last week. After celebrating the holidays, the MVP camp was the perfect remedy to get the boys and girls active again while school was still on winter break.

Camp Director Mike Graceffo talks with campers as they await their next activity (Photo By Craig Sherwood)

Graceffo created eight teams (Duke, North Carolina, UNLV, UCLA, Clippers, Lakers, Bulls and Bobcats) where they had practices and games against each other. It created a competitive atmosphere amongst the teams.

“You meet new people and get to play against them. You get to see how good they are so when you play their teams you can play aggressively or not,” Wilke explained.

Coaches from local high schools and camp counselors gave up their time to instruct the campers the finer points of basketball.

“We bring in coaches from different areas. They all come here and are willing to teach the kids,” Graceffo said.

Camp Director Mike Graceffo works with campers on defensive slides (Photo By Craig Sherwood)

Station drills focused on the fundamentals such as shooting, passing, ball handling, dribbling, rebounding, screening and jump stopping. Offensive and defensive drills taught the campers important aspects of hoops 101.

“I learned how to play defense the correct way by sliding your feet and boxing out,” Augustine said.

After another successful camp, Graceffo looked forward to a summer week-long basketball camp as well as seeing the campers develop into fine young men and women. Graceffo is synonymous with youth sports in Burbank and this camp was again a rewarding experience for him.

“It’s cool to see all over town the kids wearing their MVP basketball t-shirts,” said Graceffo, who has run this camp for the last six years. “The rewarding part for me is seeing the kids come back to camp to help out or reading about these kids later on when they are starring at their local high schools. That makes me feel real good.”


MVP Camp Director Mike Graceffo (Photo By Craig Sherwood)