A camp with a message

BURBANK — Coaching young athletes in a variety of sports for 30 years, Burbank Park, Recreation and Community Services coordinator Mike Graceffo has seen his share of talented athletes get derailed when they get to high school because they neglect their academics.

"Oh yeah, I've seen it happen many times, to good kids," said Graceffo, who also coached at the four local high schools in the past. "They just want to concentrate on sports and they don't take the time to put into their grades.

"I have had to sit guys from playing in the Burbank-Burroughs rivalry game in basketball because they didn't keep up their grades. It's sad to see that."

Because of those experiences, Graceffo makes sure that young players who attend his annual MVP Summer Basketball Camp get the message about maintaining their academics. So, along with the shooting and defensive drills that athletes took part in during the second of two camps this week, the youngsters were also informed about the value of academic preparation by Graceffo and his coaches.

"That is a very important part of the camp," Graceffo said, "because if you don't keep up your grades you're not going to play and all the hard work you put in is going to be wasted. We want to make sure we stress that and they know they have to put in the work to keep up their grades."

Graceffo's MVP Summer Basketball Camp is in its 13th year and took place Monday through Thursday at Luther Burbank Middle School. The camp, which featured 60 athletes, included players in grades two through six, and they took to the courts outside as well as inside the gym at Luther.

At Graceffo's camps, he mixes basketball with a variety of other activities. Relays, a free-throw-shooting contest with trophies to the winners and raffles are also on tap for the players. Also, each athlete leaves the camp with a certificate of participation and a personalized assessment book highlighting the camper's strengths and things he or she might need to work on.

"With the drills and all the things that we work on, we want to make it fun for the kids," Graceffo said. "If you don't make it fun, the kids won't want to come back. But I think we do a pretty good job at helping them learn the various basketball skills and keeping it fun for them.

"We want to make the camp challenging for the players who do have some experience, but we also try to make it fun for the player who is just coming out to have fun. There's definitely a balance."

After putting the players through a variety of skills stations throughout the week, the athletes are able to show off what they've learned in a series of scrimmages.

"It's nice to see a kid that maybe struggled with something in the first day of camp and they are able to do that skill when we play the games," Graceffo said. "That's one of the good parts for me, being able to see the kids improve and have fun doing it."

Some of the campers attending the event said they were able to learn from the experience and enjoyed taking part.

"I really like all the drills that we do, like the dribbling, ball-handling, shooting and defense," said Chris Mai, 13. "I think that they help me to be a better player. There's also games we play after we practice, and that's fun."

Said Daniel Tashchyan, 12, "I play basketball at other places, so I learn a lot from the camp and it helps me when I play. I really like learning new things and being able to play in the games. The shooting drills are my favorite."

Aleko Brice, 12, who said he has attended other camps, added the MVP Summer Camp stands out because of the individualized coaching it provides.

"You learn a lot more things in this camp then you learn in other camps," he said. "I like that they split us up into groups and you're able to play with kids your own age. You also get more time to work on your skills and the coaches are very good at helping us learn.

"Just yesterday we worked on left-handed layups. At first I had problems with it, but now I can do it pretty well."

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