In Kearny, soccer never loses popularity, evidenced by camp

Make no bones about it. Alexa Teixeira and Julia Viscuso are the best of friends.

Both Kearny girls are 13 years old and are headed into the eighth grade at Kearny’s Lincoln School. They laugh alike and smile alike. They hang on each other’s next word like it is a scripture from above _ and then comment on it, sealing in with a hug and some laughter.

Teixeira and Viscuso also share another passion _ the sport of soccer. Both girls play youth soccer for the famed Thistle program, Teixeira an outside back, Viscuso a left forward.

So it was only natural that the two would together attend the Just Kickin’ It Soccer Camp for both boys and girls at Kearny High School recently.

However, the two young ladies, who aspire to be Kearny High soccer players for camp director Vin Almeida someday, attended the camp for different reasons.

“I learned how to properly handle the ball,” Teixeira said. “I learned that there are different areas of the foot and where to kick the ball on the foot to get distance and touch. It definitely helped me.”

“I learned a lot of different skills, like what trends to use to get around defenders,” Viscuso said. “I had a lot of fun.”

That’s all Almeida wanted to hear. The head girls’ soccer coach at Kearny wanted the 75-or-so pupils to have a good time in the summer swelter.

“It’s interesting because you get different levels of excitement with the kids,” Almeida said. “Kids are just looking to learn a few things and enjoy themselves. I think we’re able to do both by the end of the week. We want them to have fun.”
Almeida said that 95 percent or so of the campers are from Kearny, so that makes the week even more enjoyable, knowing he’s getting a head start toward the future.

“It’s fantastic,” Almeida said. “Day by day, you see that the kids are having so much fun. This group is really into it and that makes it so much more fun for us.”

Almeida is blessed to have a good supporting staff, a group that includes his once and future players. Pat Pontoriero is a wizard working with the younger kids, ages 5 through 7.

“He’s so great with the kids,” Almeida said of Pontoriero, a native of Nutley who now coaches in Nutley. “He should be a comedian.”

John Rusek, the top assistant coach with the boys at nearby Harrison, handles the age group of 8 and 9 year olds.

“John is able to share his experiences with the kids,” Almeida said. “I know they’re getting the best that’s out there for the summer. Every time I look over at them, they’re all learning and having a good time.”

Almeida gets to supervise the older kids, but the ones that are not high school age _ just yet.

“I’m right at home with those kids,” Almeida said. “It’s a different challenge for me. I have to make things easy and fun.”

Almeida likes the idea that his players chip in with their assistance and advice.

“I push the girls to be faster and think faster,” Almeida said. “I allow them to become more comfortable with each other. I think the camp helps the team’s camaraderie. I also like to reach the kids before they get to high school and let them see what it’s like to play in high school.”

It’s an idea that 9-year-old Jayden Diaz liked. Heading into fourth grade at Franklin School, young Jayden likes playing soccer, along with basketball and baseball. When asked what she learned the most at the camp, Jayden replied, “Passing and dribbling the ball.”

“I didn’t know that there was that passing in soccer,” Diaz said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’d probably be sitting at home doing nothing. Now, I’m reading books.”

Nine-year-old Brooke Vero of Nutley was one of the out-of-towners.

“I learned a lot of skills that I didn’t have before,” Vero said. “I love playing soccer. I love how it takes good concentration. I’m usually a center midfielder and I like the responsibility that comes with it. I learned a lot of different things that will help me play better.”

Xavier Fernandez is only six years old. You can just call him ‘Hav.’

“I have an older brother (Michael, age 10) who plays on a team,” said Hav Fernandez. “I want to be like him. This gives me a chance. I’ve learned passing, which is just as important as scoring. I also like being a goalie. I want to give that a try.”

With that, “Hav” Fernandez had a pair of purple goalies gloves to match his purple sort of shorts and shirt.

It all came down to the long-time buddies Teixeira and Viscuso, inseparable since first grade, indestructible now.

“”I love watching the little ones,” said Viscuso. “I was a little one once. I was a ball girl for Coach Almeida at the high school. It’s a given that I’m going to play in high school.”

Teixeira has an older sister, Karina, who played at Kearny and now plays at St. Peter’s University. She also has a cousin, Caitlin Lima, who played last year at Kearny. Teixeira is making it all in the family.

“This all helps me get ready for when it’s my turn,” Teixeira said.

It will be soon enough and when that time comes, count on Julia to be right there.

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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.”