Kearny girls’ hoops camp: One of a kind

If you take a closer look at most of the basketball camps offered to youngsters, they are mostly co-ed. Those camps are controlled by the boys and the girls are subjected to scorn and ridicule.

But there is one highly successful summer basketball camp that is just for the young ladies — and no one else.

For the last 15 years, Kearny veteran head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill organizes a camp that is solely for the girls.

It’s a recipe for basketball success, because the girls don’t have to worry about being pushed aside in drills and games. The entire camp is strictly for them.

“It’s a great opportunity to build confidence,” Hill said. “All the girls enjoy it. It’s nice for them.”

And how much does that make a difference?
“If the boys were here, it wouldn’t help,” said 7-year-old Madison Rodriguez. “Boys do random stuff and they cause problems.”

So how much more do the girls learn on their own?

“About 1,000 times more,” little Madison said. “It’s so cool.”

“Some boys are a little crazy, you know,” said 9-year-old Julianna Biro.

Some reporters learn new things every day.

“But this was a lot of fun,” Biro said. “I was glad to be here.”

It’s also a golden chance for the little ones to learn about the sport.

“I learned a lot about passing,” said 8-year-old Mason Gryckiewicz, who is headed into the third grade and should have gained promotion strictly because she learned to spell her last name. “I learned that you can pass to anybody. It’s a very important part of the game.”

Little Mason took the words from Coach Hill to heart, because Coach Hill was a terrific ball handler and scorer during her days at Harrison High School and later Pace University.
“The coaches here are so nice,” said little Mason. “They were so nice to me last year that it made me want to come back.”

Some campers already proved to be basketball proficient.

“I learned to dribble using two balls,” said 8-year-old Julie Aular, one of the more eager girls at camp. “I learned how to shoot the right way, by using my right hand as the guide hand. I can make a lot of shots now.”

That’s going to please Julie’s personal coach _ namely older brother Jaden, who is 16 years old.

“My brother plays basketball and he takes the time to teach me how to play,” Aular said. “He helps me a lot and we have a lot of fun.”

As much fun as she had last week with the remainder of the 75 or so other campers?
“No, this is a lot of fun,” said Julie, who will start the fourth grade at Washington School in the fall. “I mean, a LOT of fun.”

Jazlyn Villanueva is a 9-year-old who will be in fourth grade at Franklin School in September.

“I learned a lot of different things that I never knew,” Villanueva said. “I learned the crossover (dribble) and the three-man weave. It makes me want to learn more about basketball because I want to be like the WNBA players someday.”

It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

Eight-year-old Keala Cecchino had a distinct advantage over others. Her mom, Denise Warnock, was a former three-sport standout at Kearny High who later became the head softball coach at the school.

“It helps having a mom who is an athlete, but it also makes me a little more nervous,” Keala said. “I learned how to defend. I learned how to shoot the right way by using my two hands the right way.”

The little campers are the ones that make Hill smile the most.

“It’s a blast to watch,” Hill said. “They’re so cute. They’re all learning the game and taking it all in. I never have to deal with kids that young. They all come out with great things. They listen to what you say and they go home and show their parents what they learned to do.”

But there were a fair share of older campers as well.

“I learned more offensive and defensive skills,” said 12-year-old Bryana Mendez. “I learned how to take the ball away from someone. I love playing basketball. When I play with boys, it encourages me, but I want to grow up and play in the WNBA. Basketball is my passion.”

“I learned how to dribble with my opposite hand,” said 12-year-old Bridget Angeles, who will head to the seventh grade in Lincoln School with Mendez. “I’m a lefty, so I had to learn to dribble the other way. I also learned to go between my legs.”

Angeles said that the drills were hard for her.

“Because I’m a lefty, I had to do everything the opposite,” Angeles said. “Coach Hill showed me to do everything with both hands and that helped me a lot. The drills I learned here, I can take them home and use them in the gym.”

Angelina Fontanez will be a seventh grader at Lincoln School as well.

“I learned the three-man weave,” Fontanez said. “When I first got here this week, that drill was impossible. I saw the different ways the ball was coming back and that helped me. It was a really good experience. I learned so much in these last four days. I want to become a better player. This was a good start.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”