New idea called ‘Combo Camp’ comes to North Arlington

For years, the North Arlington High School football coaching staff would host a week-long camp in June for prospective players at Rip Collins Field.

The same could be said for the North Arlington baseball program.

Then the coaches involved realized two things: One, most of the kids who attended one camp were students at the other camp as well. And two, attendance numbers at the camps were dwindling.

“We’re a (NJSIAA) Group I school,” said NA veteran baseball coach Paul Marcantuono. “We always try to promote other sports. We’re all on the same page. We’re not in competition for kids. We all want the kids to play multiple sports.”

“It’s all about getting everyone on the same page,” said new NA head football coach Paul Savage. “We all work together in the school, so why not work together in a camp setting to help get our teams to be better.”

There lies the reason for the birth of the new North Arlington Combo Camp, which combined football and baseball instruction in the same week.

“It was just a new idea that we decided to try,” Savage said. “Our all-around goal was to get kids to understand the coaches better and realize why the coaches are here.”

Savage introduced the idea to Marcantuono, who liked the concept.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Marcantuono said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s combine the two.’It’s what a school of our size has to do.”

So last week at Collins Field, the students were treated to two days of football instruction, two days of baseball teaching and then a day of fun with interesting games and contests.

“We alternated days,” Marcantuono said. “The kids seemed to enjoy it. It made everything fresh. We had about 30 kids, so the numbers definitely improved from last year. I think having the Combo Camp helped.”

Savage said that if a student wanted to focus strictly on baseball, he was given that opportunity. The same with football. But most chose to learn about the two sports because there is a strong chance that they will be asked to participate in those two sports when the time comes for them to enroll in North Arlington High.

“Everyone gets what they came for,” Savage said. “They could get the best of both worlds.”

For Savage, being a new coach, it helped to get acquainted with his new players.

“The kids can become familiar with the new faces,” said Savage, who inherits the program that coach Anthony Marck helped to nurture over the last few years. “By the time they get here, the kids will already know who I am. I can see their faces and they seem interested.”

The coaches devised a motto that appeared on the back of their Combo Camp T-Shirts.

“It says, ‘Athletes Play Everything,’” Savage said. “Not only do we want the kids to realize that, but we want other people around town to know it as well.”

The campers seemed to like the two-sport approach.

“Having both sports has proved to be a lot of fun,” said 11-year-old Lucas Young, a student of the North Arlington Middle School who plays first base and centerfield in baseball and is a fullback and linebacker during football season. “I learned how to shuffle my feet properly when I’m getting to first base and getting the ball to first faster. In football, I learned how to do moves on people, how to juke them out. It really was helpful. I liked it that way, getting a little bit of both.”

Tony Alho is a 13-year-old freshman-to-be at NA. He is an aspiring baseball player who is a catcher, third baseman and left fielder.

“I learned about different ways to lead off base,” Alho said. “I also learned how the varsity practices and I wanted to learn that. It’s been a lot of fun coming here and I learned a lot.”

Joey Witt is a 14-year-old fledgling baseball star at NA.

“I learned how to take a cutoff throw (from the outfield),” Witt said. “I’ve been to this camp a lot of times. It’s good to get me ready for high school.”

Jeremiah Zakhary is a 10-year-old student of the Middle School.

“This was a fun way to start the summer,” Zakhary said. “If I wanted to, I could pick one sport or the other.”

Zakhary chose baseball.

“I learned the proper way to do a relay,” Zakhary said. “It’s going to help me.”

Jesse Calfayan is a 10-year-old camper who attends Washington School. He worked on both sports in the Combo Camp.

“I play both sports and I wanted to learn as much as I could about both,” Calfayan said. “It helps to know both sports as I get older and it was fun to work on both sports at the same time.”

Robert Kairys is an 11-year-old Middle School student. He’s a baseball player, a regular jack-of-all-trades.

“I play third base and pitcher and catcher and second base,” Kairys said without stopping to catch his breath. “It felt good to learn more about baseball.”
And what did Kairys learn?

“How to dive correctly for a ball,” Kairys said.

One didn’t know that there was a right way and a wrong way.

“Well, I know now,” Kairys said.

Matt Higgins is a nine-year-old Roosevelt School student. He just wants to play baseball.

“I’ll play anywhere the coach wants me to play,” Higgins said.

And what did Higgins learn last week?

“I learned that I’m really good at the Home Run Derby,” Higgins said. “I won for both the Little League and Senior League. I hit three.”

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton better watch out for young Matt and the rest of the super sluggers of North Arlington.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer