Joseph Figa might be only seven years old, but he knows what he wants to do.
“I love playing soccer,” said the red-headed Figa with a bright smile, missing one front tooth. “I have a lot of fun playing soccer.”
So there was no doubt that the young Nutley resident would attend the Nutley High School Soccer Camp last week at the Nutley Oval.
What was the one thing Joseph liked more than anything else at the camp?
“I liked playing cowboys and Indians,” Figa said.
Wait a minute. A soccer camp having a western theme. That’s different.
“It’s a game with soccer,” Figa said. “You run around in the middle and the coaches kick the ball at you. If it hits your legs, you’re out. It was a lot of fun.”
Figa also learned something about soccer, much like the 100 or so other youngsters in attendance.
“I learned how to trap the ball with the inside of my foot,” said Figa, obviously a quick learner.
There were others who captured ideas that really had nothing to do with soccer.
“I learned that even when you’re down, you have to pull through and keep working your hardest,” said 12-year-old Poppy Jelley, an experienced soccer player who plays forward for the Nutley United program. “You have to express yourself and do what you love to do.”
Jelley was not the only female, as this camp was completely co-educational.
Jasmine Ouatu is a 10-year-old midfielder who plays club soccer for the Clarkstown Soccer Club in New York. She was one of the most impressive players _ boy or girl _ at the camp, a player with an incredibly bright future.
“I learned how to support my teammates and encourage them,” said Ouatu, who was a slick, proficient ball handler. “If you encourage your teammates, it puts them in the right frame of mind.”
Yes indeed, the young lady is only 10.
“I have a lot of friends here,” Ouatu said. “It’s great that we can play together.”
Austin Hamer is another budding star. The 13-year-old Hamer plays forward for SDFC in Nutley. He once scored five goals in a game when he was 10 years old.
Hamer, who is headed into eighth grade, looked at the camp in another way.
“I look at it as a chance to meet the coaches and get my name out there,” Hamer said. “I get a chance to meet the (Nutley High School) varsity players and how they play. This way, I can be ready when I get to high school.”
Hamer said that he didn’t mind being at a camp with younger kids.
“I encourage them and help them,” Hamer said. “The younger guys are fun to be around.”
Yes, it was like one big happy soccer family in Nutley.
That’s because the camp was being run by a part of the premier soccer and wrestling family in Nutley, namely Nutley head girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano.
DiPiano, whose father and brother are highly respected coaches and officials, has organized this camp along with former Nutley High boys’ soccer coach Marcellino Marra, who just recently left the post to become the new athletic director at neighboring Belleville.
Marra and DiPiano started the camp six years ago.
“The first year, we started with 30 kids, then it just started to grow,” DiPiano said. “We have 105 kids and we’ve had parents ask if we could extend the camp to two weeks. That’s something we will have to look into. There’s a want for soccer in this town and this is proof. We’ve been able to build this camp into one of the best ones around.”
It’s definitely a sign that soccer is flourishing in Nutley.
“We have 19 travel teams in Nutley United,” DiPiano said. “We’ve changed. Football people always keep saying that we’re a football town. Well, I think this is proof we’re changing. Kids want to play soccer. They’re being steered in a different direction.
Added DiPiano, “The kids are here and want to be here. They want to play. We’re not just sending them out there and letting them play. They come here to learn and they want to learn.”
DiPiano was impressed with the way the camp materialized last week.
“The kids have this youthful energy that refuels you and makes you want to coach them,” DiPiano said. “We had so many kids this year that we might have to move it to another complex. We have a lot of kids playing. We have a lot of girls playing.”
Many of the counselors were DiPiano’s players on the Nutley High School varsity.
“They want to be here helping the younger kids,” DiPiano said. “Some of them are their siblings. The kids are getting great instruction from our players.”
DiPiano said that a third of the day is spent on instruction, then a third spent on drills, speed and conditioning.
“And the last third is playing and having fun,” DiPiano said. “The kids are non-stop. They have so much energy. And I love it. I love getting that youthful energy from them. You never know. The next superstar player might be out here, like Zoe Steck.”
The Nutley all-time leading scorer is now at the University of Connecticut playing soccer. There could be another one developing in Nutley right now.
“You never know,” DiPiano said.
The Nutley High School soccer camp had 105 youngsters at the Oval last week. Photo courtesy of Mike DiPiano
Two campers go for the loose ball in a drill during the Nutley High School soccer camp. Photo by Jim Hague
Joseph Figa goes after a ball during a shooting drill at the Nutley High School soccer camp. Photo by Jim Hague