By Jim Hague
Usually, summer basketball camps offer a lot of things. The camps allow the students to work on their individual skills, learn something to take home with them and give the campers the guidance to continue their development on their own.
There’s also another aspect to the summer camps. Most of them are co-educational, meaning that the boys learn right alongside of the girls.
But that’s not the case at the Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp, which was held recently at Schuyler School. It’s for girls and strictly for girls. Sorry, no boys allowed.
Having a camp strictly for girls is a great approach, because it enables the girls to not have to worry about trying to keep up with the boys, compete with the boys or even impress them. They’re on their own.
“I like to see the girls playing with girls, because it gives them the feeling like they are the best,” said Jody Hill, the Kearny High School head girls’ basketball coach and coordinator of the camp. “They get a sense of what it’s like on the high school level, where they only play with and against girls. When you look around, most of the camps are co-ed. I’m a big believer of giving the girls a chance to shine on their own.”
Almost 100 young ladies participated in the week-long basketball bonanza. They received T-shirts, courtesy of Applebee’s and basketballs. They also received instruction from Hill and her staff of counselors, which included the last two Observer Female Athletes of the Year, Janitza Aquino (2011) and Stefanie Gomes (2012).
But they also had a chance to bond, make new friends. Not all of the girls came from Kearny. A good group came from the same team at Sacred Heart School in Lyndhurst. Others came from surrounding towns, so it was a good chance to make friends and acquaintances that were never made before.
“Word is definitely being spread,” said Hill, who has coordinated the camp for the past decade. “We got girls from Lodi, Harrison, Lyndhurst. It’s nice to be able to get girls from all over. They realize that it’s a nice local way if they want to improve their game.”
Hill said that she came away impressed with the talent level in the camp.
“I saw a lot of seven and eight-year-olds who showed me a lot,” Hill said. “The 12 and 13-year-olds are close to either playing in our seventh and eighth grade program or getting ready to play in high school. By getting them to play at a younger age, it gets them ready for the future, because some of them are the future players in our program.”
Unfortunately, some of the campers play at other schools already.
Rayven Lucas, the talented guard-forward from Harrison High School, attended the camp once again. Lucas’ father, Ray, and Hill were friends and classmates from their days at Harrison. The elder Lucas is the former Rutgers and New York Jets quarterback who now does analysis on the SNY television network.
The younger Lucas is entering her senior year at Harrison and has already declared that she will follow in her father’s footsteps and attend Rutgers next fall. But Rayven has one last season with the Blue Tide and attending the camp will help her improvement.
“It really does help,” Lucas said. “I’ve worked on my dribbling and skill set. I’ve learned how to handle the ball, going behind my back and through my legs. I’ve been working all summer long, non-stop, to get ready for this year. From where I started to where I am now, it’s unbelievable. I cannot wait for the start of the season. I wish it was tomorrow.”
Lucas’ younger sister, Kayla, age 9, also attended the camp.
“I love the idea I can share this with her,” Rayven Lucas said.
Fabiana Sotogallego is an 11-year-old from North Arlington who is part of the Sacred Heart of Lyndhurst program.
“It’s been a lot of fun coming here,” Sotogallego said. “It’s defi nitely helped me improve as a player. I’ve gone to other camps, but this has been the best one because it’s strictly for girls. I feel like I’m a better player now.”
Gianna Nigro is a 10-yearold who will enter sixth grade at Schuyler School in September.
“I was really looking forward to coming to the camp this year,” Nigro said. “Having only girls here makes it easier to learn and better for all of us.”
Nigro said she became a better shooter after the week of camp.
Jaime Lynn Connors is a 10-year-old who also attends Sacred Heart School.
“Basketball is my favorite sport and this camp gives me a chance to play with friends and new people I just met,” Connors said. “I went to the camp last year and wanted to come back. I’ve been working on my shooting. Usually, that’s the hardest thing for me.”
Francesca Petrullo is another 10-year-old from Sacred Heart who lives in North Arlington.
“This was my first time coming to the camp, but I plan on coming back,” Petrullo said. “I had a really good time. The coaches help you a lot. I learned how to dribble with my left hand. I could never do that before.”
Danielle Silva is a 12-yearold who attends Washington School in Kearny.
“This was my first time coming to the camp,” Silva said. “My sisters went to the camp when they were younger and they told me they learned so much. I learned how to dribble, how to make layups. It was a lot of fun and I made new friends. I think that’s important.”
Ten-year-old Christina Alberti, another product of Sacred Heart in Lyndhurst, learned how to shoot with her left hand for the first time.
“I used to not be able to shoot with the left at all,” Alberti said. “Now, I can and I’ll be practicing it more and more. Everything I’ve learned here, I’m going back to practice on my own. I wanted to learn and I did. I also had a lot of fun.”
Vanessa Lusquinhos is an 11-year-old who goes to Washington School in Kearny.
“This was my fi rst time here,” Lusquinhos said. “I heard from others that it was a lot of fun and it was. I feel like I’m a better player now. It’s good that it’s all girls, because boys would make it too competitive. This made me want to play more.”
Hill was overjoyed with the turnout and the response.
“My goal was to do something for the girls, to make them feel good about themselves and give them the opportunity to learn a little,” Hill said.
“I tell them that they now have to go home and practice on their own. You don’t become a special player doing it for five days. It was a nice surprise to have such a great turnout.”