Eager kids get their kicks at Kearny soccer camp

Lee and Jack Mara are 12-year-old twin brothers who live in Kearny and will enter the seventh grade at Lincoln School in September.

No one would ever tell that the two are twins. They are far from identical and in fact they don’t even look like brothers, never mind twins.

But the two brothers have something in common _ an extreme devotion to soccer.

Both Mara brothers are so accomplished in the sport that they have already had stints with the Red Bull Academy, run by the New York Red Bulls.

Lee Mara is a center midfielder. Jack plays on the same wing as his brother.

Last week, the two were part of the more than 100 youngsters who participated in the Kearny Soccer Camp held at Kearny High School.

The Maras are regulars of the weekly camp, organized by Kearny High School boys’ head coach Bill Galka. It’s the third straight year that the Maras have attended.

“I learned how to use every part of my foot when I dribble,” Lee Mara said. “It’s really helped me a lot. It helps me become a better player.”

“I have a lot of friends here,” said Jack Mara, who is one minute younger than his brother. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

That’s the general feeling among the campers. They were learning soccer, but they were also having a lot of fun with their friends in the process.

“I’ve been coming to this camp since I was four,” said 12-year-old Maci Covello, who will also enter the seventh grade at Lincoln School in the fall. “I like it here. I learned to dribble all sorts of ways.”

Maci, who is extremely tall and hovers over the rest of the campers, plays for Kearny Thistle’s U-13 team. She also plays basketball and softball, but loves soccer.

“It’s my favorite sport, by far,” Covello said.

She said she liked teaching the younger kids.

“I like watching them play, too,” Maci said.

Joseph Nigro is a 10-year-old student at Schuyler School who plays for the SDFC of Montclair.

“I basically play anywhere on the left side,” Nigro said. “I use my left foot, but I’m learning to do things with my right. It’s really fun. I just love soccer. Anything soccer is just fun to me.”

Nigro said that he learned “how to get out of different situations” while at camp. It’s safe to say that everyone could use that assistance in their daily lives.

Caiden Rundecker is a 10-year-old resident of Kearny who attends Sacred Heart School in Lyndhurst.

Young Caiden is still learning the sport.

“I love soccer and I want to learn everything there is to know about soccer,” Rundecker said. “I learned how to juggle the ball.”

Rundecker said that he’s a fan of Barcelona.

“I want to see Barcelona beat Juventus,” Rundecker said.

Most of the campers said that their favorite clubs are those who play overseas. None mentioned any of the Major League Soccer teams, including the Red Bulls, who play their home games in neighboring Harrison.

“I’m just learning,” Rundecker said. “I don’t know if I’m going to play. I came here because my sister and brother both came here and they liked it.”

Nine-year-old Keala Cecchino is going into fourth grade at Roosevelt School.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Cecchino said. “I learned how to dribble better and I needed that. It’s going to make me a better player.”

Cecchino said her favorite team was Barcelona. She wasn’t intimidated or scared being a girl in a setting dominated by boys.

Carter Infante is also nine years old and resides in Denville. He came all the way in with his stepfather to attend the camp.

“I made good friends here,” Infante said. “I feel comfortable here.”
Infante is both a forward and goalie for his travel team in Jersey City, so he had a lot to offer at the camp.

“I haven’t been a goalie here yet,” Infante said. “But I love it.”

Galka has been part of the came for 16 years now. He inherited the role of being the head camper when former Kearny coach and athletic director John Millar stepped down from coaching, giving Galka the reins of the camp as well as the varsity.

“This is the biggest camp that we can remember,” said Galka, who received assistance from other assistant coaches and former players. “It’s always been a boys’ and girls’ camp, ages four to 14. We never turn anyone away. We make room for as many as we can.”
This year, Galka welcomed two special needs girls to the camp. The two girls were spotted holding each other’s hands as they ran around the field.

“It’s great,” Galka said. “We break the kids into groups, 15 kids per coach. That’s the goal.”

Galka said that he loves working with the younger kids for a change.

“It’s a whole different mindset,” Galka said. “I used to work with little kids when I worked at Garfield School. I don’t see them often now and I really miss them. So this is fun.”

Galka said that they try to make the camp as much fun as possible, as well as a learning tool.

“It’s a more relaxed atmosphere,” Galka said. “Hopefully, we’re teaching the fundamentals of the game, but they’re not getting drilled. Our coaches do a great job making this fun for the kids and they learn a little something about the sport as well.”

Galka gets a kick out of seeing the younger kids prance across the field at Kearny High.

“I think it’s a thrill for them to come out here and play on the turf,” Galka said. “Maybe someday, they can come here and play for us.”

Galka said that several former campers have gone on to play varsity soccer for him.

“I think we’ve had at least 10 or 12 campers go on to play for the varsity,” Galka said. “So it’s a good feeder system. These kids are our future players. We hope they get hooked on the sport and continue on.”

Much like the Mara brothers. Chances are that we will see Lee and Jack playing together somewhere together down the road.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer