Members of the VFW Major baseball team are (bottom row, left to right) Dallas Lindor, Charter Kipe, Caleb Ward, Michael Robarts, Joe Upchurch and Jacob Upchurch; (second row) Will Rechart, Parker Perdue, Dylan Staton, Nick Salio, Samuel Kipe and Ryan Klingler; (back row), Steve Koruschak of the VFW, coach Joe Ciferni, B.J. Ciferni and VFW Commander Ed Perkins. Not pictured are Bill Drasdo and Sonny Emery.
Joe Ciferni, Facility Director of Maintenance and Supplies at Bartow Ford, is actively involved in the community with the Lake Wales Little League. See the original article from the Ledger below.
A Labor of Love: Ciferni Returns to Youth Coaching at Age 68
By Lisa Coffey
Published: Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:48 p.m.
Former Lake Wales Little League president Joe Ciferni has found the fountain of youth at the baseball/softball park next to Lake Wales.
Ciferni, 68, can’t stop talking about how much he enjoys his time with the VFW Major (age 11-12) baseball team.
Ciferni gathered former longtime coach Bill Drasdo, former player Sonny Emery and his son, B.J., to help him coach the team through the regular season and to the season-ending, countywide Tournament of Champions.
The return to the game for the three, and the involvement of the local VFW Post, have filled a void for Ciferni and given new memories and a sense of fulfillment to B.J., and Emery.
Their baseball histories are intertwined.
Ciferni coached for close to 20 years and served as league president for five. He coached B.J., now 25, for a few years as well.
“A lot of them think I’ve lost my mind,” said Ciferni of his old Little League friends. “Once B.J. stopped playing at Warner University, I was sitting around. And every spring, I thought about how much I missed the coaching end of it.”
He said he wouldn’t go back unless he found the right coaches. Despite the father-son conflicts, one of the right coaches was his son, B.J.
“It’s a little bit weird,” B.J. said. “I think our personalities clash a little at times. I’m a little more intense and want to win and he’s all about having fun. Having fun to me is winning.
“He was a little bit harder on me and the guys I played with years ago. I enjoy it,” B.J. said. “It’s a way for us to do something together as father and son. We’ve grown apart a bit over the years, and it brings us back together. It’s something we both have in common and care about.”
Joe is watching his son grow in a different phase of his life.
“I really enjoyed watching what he does,” Joe said. “The kids really love him. Until recently, I never knew how much he enjoyed that program growing up. That’s pretty neat.”
Commander Ed Perkins of VFW Post 2420 has been a big factor in Ciferni’s enjoyable return. The commander and other members are not the normal team sponsors who only pay a fee for their business names to go on the uniforms.
They get involved.
They have come to games, bought post-game hamburgers and hot dogs for the players on several occasions, held a cookout for the team and family members and taken the entire team and their families to a Rays game when former Lake Wales Little Leaguer Wade Davis was pitching.
“I wish everyone had sponsors like VFW,” Ciferni said. “It’s very unusual. They don’t have to do this stuff. Their values and mine are the same. They want the kids to have life learning experiences and grow up to be good citizens and understand you have to work for things.”
Emery also played for VFW. His grandfather coached a VFW team.
“What an honor it is to be a part of a VFW team,” he said. “No other sponsors take care of their players like VFW does. They tell us from the beginning, winning is not everything. It’s making sure every kid plays and has a good time. They don’t care if we come in last place.”
Teaching the kids is where Ciferni has gotten the most pleasure since he returned two years ago.
“We’ve had a good time,” he said. “The big thing is to watch the kids – what they are like when you get them and how they end up.”
The VFW team won the second half title, which was not expected given that three of the boys had never played before.
The team was 11-5 and is headed to the Tournament of Champions.
The wonder of watching them blossom has Ciferni talking.
“These kids are not the best ball players,” Ciferni said. “One kid got his first hit and another caught his (first) fly ball. It was like they won the World Series. The looks on their faces…”