By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Jaeli Torres is a 12-year-old resident of Rutherford. Her father and uncle were basketball standouts during their heyday at Rutherford High School, so it would be only natural for young Jaeli to want to learn about the game like her dad and uncle.
“My uncle set the record for most points there, so basically, I had no choice,” Torres said.
So in order to learn more about basketball, Torres came to Kearny recently to attend the Kearny High School Girls’ Basketball Camp. It’s been a fixture for the past decade at the school, run under the guidance and leadership of Kearny head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill.
It was a beneficial week for Torres.
“I learned how to do most of the drills,” Torres said. “I learned how to do things in basketball with the older girls. I liked that. I took some hits, but it made me pick myself back up and get back out there. It was a lot of fun.”
That was the basic premise of the week. The 75 or so young ladies who attended the week-long camp got to learn a lot about the fundamentals of basketball, but had fun in doing so.
Carley Martin is an aspiring 11-year-old standout from Roosevelt School in Lyndhurst. Her father, Chuck, was the long-time head boys’ basketball coach at Lyndhurst.
“I learned how to do the weave drill,” Martin said. “I learned how to attack the front foot in playing one-on-one. I liked that they let us help the little girls with their shooting. I love basketball. It’s my favorite sport. I practice it every day.”
Ally Scrimo of Kearny was excited.
“I’ll be turning eight on Saturday,” proclaimed Scrimo, a student at Schuyler School in Kearny. “I learned how to jab step here. I feel like it’s made me become a better player.”
Ten-year-old Lindsay Chesney, a Kearny resident and a student at Garfield School, agreed.
“I’ve learned how to become a better player one-on-one,” Chesney said. “The camp has encouraged me and made me want to play more. I came here last year and wanted to come back, because I like basketball a lot.”
Kasey Vasquez is a promising 12-year-old from Harrison’s Washington Middle School.
“I learned a lot about ball handling,” Vasquez said. “I like to play guard, so this makes me more polished.”
Vasquez was excited to learn that Coach Hill was once a product of Harrison and went on to become one of the greatest players in the history of Harrison High School and a member of the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame.
“That makes me even more impressed,” said Vasquez, who didn’t know about Hill’s background. “That can basically help my life, knowing I can be like her.”
Cheyanne Iverson (no relation to former Philadelphia 76ers great Allen Iverson) is a 12-year-old from Lincoln School in Kearny.
“This is the fifth year I’m coming to the camp,” Iverson said. “I love coming. It’s a lot of fun.”
Iverson was asked if she wanted to have the nickname of “The Truth,” like Allen Iverson.
“I don’t like that name,” she said. “I learned about moves and weaves. I feel like I’ve become a better player here.”
Like Iverson, Skyler Matusz is a 12-year-old student of Lincoln School in Kearny.
“I definitely learned a lot about ball handling and that helped me a lot,” said Matusz. “I’m a guard and that helps.”
Matusz did not know that Hill was a standout guard.
“Maybe I have to listen to her a little more now,” Matusz said.
Bre Costa is a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Kearny High School in September. It was her first time at the camp.
“I learned about the camp at school,” Costa said. “I got a flier. It seemed interesting, so I decided to come.”
Costa plans on trying out for the Kearny High School team in November.
“Coming to camp made me love the game more,” Costa said. “It made me want to play more.”
That’s what Hill wants to hear – getting more girls interested in playing basketball. Hill’s camp is unique in that it is strictly for girls, ages 7-14. Sorry, no boys allowed.
“Every year, we tend to get a few compliments, because the camp is strictly for girls,” said Hill, who has had the camp ever since she became the head coach at Kearny 11 years ago. “The parents tell me that the girls love to come because it’s all girls. They all know that most places, boys dominate. This way, the girls get the most out of being here. They’re all on the same playing field.”
Hill said that she always tries to offer a little something different each year.
“I keep trying to improve it,” Hill said. “I learn as I go. I take experiences from other camps and bring them here. We’re always trying to do new things and fresh things. The counselors do a great job with that.”
Added Hill, “It’s a great feeling to see all the same faces coming back. Hopefully, it means we’re doing something right. Maybe we’ve inspired them a little to keep playing and keep coming back. We also try to make the camp as much fun as possible.”
Many of Hill’s former players return as camp counselors, like former Observer Female Athlete of the Year Janitza Aquino, currently a standout for nationally ranked Montclair State.
“We want the girls to get the most out of it,” Hill said.
Hill said that she never thought about telling the campers about her playing background.
“Maybe it’s just a modesty thing,” Hill said. “I don’t know. There’s some information about me on the flier, but I usually don’t have a tendency to talk about myself. I tend to talk about Janitza and what she’s done. I do have a tough time talking about myself. Maybe I have to do a better job of that.”
Hill said that she adores working with the younger players.
“I can see the passion and the love that these girls have,” Hill said. “When they come here, they tend to feel good about themselves. After the week is over, they come over and give me a ‘high-five,’ and say thanks. It’s very rewarding. They now come to camp, get the Kearny aspect of it and maybe they can stick with it and give it a shot in high school. We just want to make basketball fun for them.”
It sure looked like that mission was accomplished.
Hill credited sponsor AlarisHealth at Kearny, especially Bernice Marshall, for supplying the camp T-shirts. AlarisHealth provides health care services and technological innovations for post-operative care, short term rehab patients and long-term patients alike.