Kids get into a soccer frame of mind at Kearny camp

Addison Burke may only be six years old and will enter the first grade at Schuyler School in Kearny in a few weeks.

But Burke knows exactly what she is when it comes to playing soccer.

“I’m a goalie,” Burke said. “I’m just a goalie, nothing else. I like playing goalie. I’m not afraid of the ball and I like when I get the chance to catch the ball.”

Burke is already a player in the famed Kearny Thistle youth soccer program, so she’s well ingrained in the sport.

But recently, young Addison had a chance to enhance her soccer skills at the Kearny youth soccer camp, held at Kearny High School under the watchful eyes of Kearny head girls’ soccer coach Stefanee Pace Kivlehan.

“This is a lot of fun,” Burke said. “I learned a lot about helping your team, which is important in soccer. I’ve made a lot of new friends, which has been fun. This is the most fun I’m going to have this summer, except for what I’m doing Friday.”

And pray tell what was that?
“I’m going to make a volcano erupt,” Burke said with a gleaming smile.

Peter Gavigan is only five years old, but he’s already getting prepared for his soccer season.

“I learned how to score goals,” Gavigan said. “I learned to dribble and pass or shoot. We also played little games that were so much fun. It makes me want to play soccer more. I feel like I’m better.”
Gavigan is a tad sad these days, because his family just moved from Kearny to Nutley, so he’s going to have to make new friends next month when school starts. But he’ll see his old friends come soccer season.

Zach Pridgen is also five and he spends a lot of his time playing softball and baseball. But for this week, Pridgen was a soccer player and he was very good explaining one drill he was taught during the week-long camp.

“One person faces me and then he kicks the ball to me,” Pridgen explained. “And then I have to turn around and try to pass it to someone else. It was a lot of fun. My cousin Payton was here and so were all of his friends.”

Christopher Mendes is 11 years old, but he’s a veteran of attending soccer camps in the town that has the name of “Soccertown, USA.”

“I come to this camp every year,” Mendes said.

Mendes used to live in Kearny, but his family moved to Park Ridge last year.

“This camp is important for me, because it’s nice to see my old friends,” said Mendes, a very talented and promising soccer player. “I also got to see a lot of my old teammates.”

Mendes said that he plays all over the field.

“Except goalie or forward, I don’t play there,” Mendes said. “I still play baseball, but soccer is one of the biggest keys of my life. I also play lacrosse, but I love playing soccer.”

And the aspect of the game that Mendes worked on the most over the course of the camp?

“I worked on my shooting,” Mendes said. “I learned how to shoot the ball low when the field is wet. I’m going to take what I learned here with me. I feel like I’m trying my hardest to get better.”

Emma Mendes is Christopher’s 5-year-old little sister. She said that she’s a midfielder.

“I learned how to pass the ball,” Emma Mendes said. “I learned how to use the inside of my foot to keep the ball close to me. I really loved being here.”
The kids were all asked what they might be doing if they weren’t attending the camp.

“I’d probably be playing on the Wii,” Emma Mendes said.

“I’d be watching television or sleeping in,” Christopher Mendes said.

Whatever the case, the 50 or so youngsters were not in front of a TV screen or under the sheets, despite the rainy weather. Thanks to Kivlehan, who took over the camp from her predecessor Vin Almeida, now the school’s athletic director, the kids had the opportunity to play, learn and have fun.

And give credit to Kivlehan, because she’s expecting the birth of her first child, a daughter, next month. Even at eight months pregnant, Kivlehan, who was an All-American player during her days at Kearny High, was out on the field and running around with the youngsters.

“We had a very nice turnout,” said Kivlehan, whose husband, Patrick, is a player for the Las Vegas 51s, the New York Mets’ Class AAA franchise. Patrick Kivlehan spent most of the 2017 season with the Cincinnati Reds.

“We had a good group of kids in the 10, 11 and 12-year-old range,” Kivlehan said. “They’re all into the game and want to learn. That’s always nice to see. As long as you have kids out there playing soccer, then that’s the most important thing. We are getting a chance to be familiar with the kids and they’re getting the chance to be familiar with us.”

Kivlehan realized that it helps that she was running a camp in a town where soccer reigns as king. Soccer is the primary sport in Kearny, followed by soccer and then soccer.

“There’s still something about the area that gets people excited about soccer,” Kivlehan said. “Everyone here has played soccer on some level. They’re all excited to play.”

So it made things easier for Kivlehan and her hard working staff to organize the kids in different age levels and talent levels.

Take Adrian DaSilva for example. The 12-year-old DaSilva, who will enter seventh grade at Kearny’s Lincoln School next month, already plays at a high club level with the Cedar Stars Academy in Newark.

“More than anything, I liked shooting,” DaSilva said. “I take most of the free kicks for my team, so shooting is important to me. It’s fun to shoot. So I come here and work on different things.”

DaSilva liked the idea that the camp was co-educational.

“I’m happy that the girls were here,” DaSilva said. “I’m not a sexist. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. It did not matter that there were girls here. I think we all got along very well and it was a lot of fun.”

Kivlehan loved the group that attended the camp.

“They were really a great group of kids,” said Kivlehan, who will begin her second season as head coach of the Kardinals next month. “It’s always nice to see the younger kids out there. It kind of puts the fun back into the game working with the little ones. It’s been a while since I got a chance to work with the little ones. I loved it.”

So did the littlest aspiring goalkeeper.

“I don’t want to be anywhere else but right here,” Addison Burke said. “I had the time of my life.”

She sure looked like it.


Under the guidance of Kearny High School head girls’ soccer coach Stefanee Pace Kivlehan (center), the Kearny youth soccer camp was a rousing success recently at the high school. Photo by Jim Hague

The youngsters work on their passing and ball handling skills at the Kearny youth soccer camp recently at Kearny High School. Photo by Jim Hague

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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.”