By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Sure, Kearny is known as “Soccertown, USA.” And, of course, the World Cup soccer tournament was coming to a close last week.
But for 75 local youngsters, baseball was the primary sport, as they took part of the week-long Kearny Kards Kamp at Franklin School Field.
Headed by Kearny High School head coach Frank Bifulco and assisted by a host of talented baseball instructors, the Kards Kamp gave youngsters a lot of instruction while having a lot of fun at the same time.
“It really is fun,” Bifulco said. “To see a lot of young local kids being this interested in baseball is tremendous. It’s not stressful. We don’t have to worry about winning or losing. It’s just teaching.”
Bifulco had a great staff at the Kamp, including his current assistant Doug Gogal, as well as former head coach Jim Sickinger (for whom Bifulco played), former assistant Jason Cavalla and current Harrison head coach Jairo Mendez (a former Kearny High teammate of Bifulco).
“They’re all guys who know the game and have been part of the Kearny program,” Bifulco said. “I think we’re trying to maintain pride in what we do. They’re part of the Kearny family.”
Bifulco said that the first two days of the Kamp, the campers were inundated with baseball. “
I think they were in a state of shock, because we put them through so many drills,” Bifulco said. “We put them through three hours of work. But you see the younger guys really working hard. They were into it. They wanted to learn.
You could see that they wanted to get better. If they’re asking questions, that means they want to learn.” Jake Landy is a 10-year-old second baseman.
“I learned how to make the turn on a double play at second base better,” Landy said. “I learned things to help me with my hitting. I learned how to properly field a ground ball in the outfield. It was good to learn all those things. I did have a lot of fun. Baseball is my favorite sport. I’m going to take what I learned and use them with every team I play for.”
This was the second year that Landy attended Kards Kamp and he insists he will be back.
Bifulco was pleased that two former campers, Connor McClelland and Tyler Whaley, are now playing for him at Kearny High and were counselors at the Kards Kamp last week.
“They can now talk to the other kids and tell them what it’s all about,” Bifulco said. “It becomes full circle.”
William Chesney is a 9-year-old first baseman and outfielder.
“I learned how to hit the ball better and run the bases better,” Chesney said. “It really was a lot of fun.”
Chesney said that his favorite part of Kamp had nothing to do with baseball.
“I loved the slip and slide,” Chesney said.
For a little amusement, Bifulco set up a slip and slide for the kids to have fun, but also made sure that kids learned the proper way to slide into bases in the process.
“I’m glad I came,” Chesney said. “It made me want to play baseball more.”
The camp wasn’t just for boys, as 7-year-old Emma Carson proved. Emma is a baseball player right now. She’s not ready to make the transformation into softball, so she will continue to play baseball with and against the boys.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Carson said when asked about being one of the only girls. “I kind of like it that way. I came here to learn.”
Carson said that she plays catcher and the outfield.
“I learned how to pitch the proper way,” Carson said. “I learned how to run the bases. I learned how to hit the ball. It definitely makes me want to play baseball more.”
Logan DaSilva is a 10-yearold pitcher and shortstop.
“I learned how to slide the proper way and learned how to hit better,” DaSilva said. “It also helped with my pitching, like making the proper windup. On a scale of 1 to 10, I think this was a 10. It encourages me to play more.”
Travis Witt is 13 and one of the most promising performers at the camp.
“I’ve been coming to the camp for three years,” said Witt, whose older brother, T.J., was the starting catcher at Kearny High last year. “I want to become a better shortstop, so I learned the proper way to catch a groundball. Baseball is my favorite sport and I think this will help me become a better player and maybe even better than my brother.”
Bifulco loves the promise that the campers showed.
“They all have the potential talent to play at Kearny High School,” Bifulco said. “They want to play baseball and that’s nice. They look good. There are seven kids here who will go to Kearny in the fall, so there’s definitely a barometer of the future. The 10-to-12-year-old kids have been playing together for a while. They get after it every day. I am really impressed with how much they’ve learned.”
Bifulco loves what he does for the week.
“It’s a blast,” Bifulco said. “I can really say that.”