It’s girls only at Kearny girls’ basketball camp

Sophia McGonigle is an aspiring 11-year-old basketball player from Kearny who will enter the sixth grade at Sacred Heart School.

Just how much of a fan is young Sophia of basketball?

“I love it,” McGonigle said emphatically. “It’s my life. I love watching games on television. It’s mostly all I think about.”

McGonigle’s teachers at Sacred Heart certainly didn’t want to read that quote.

But with that in mind, there was little doubt that McGonigle wanted to spend last week at the Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp that was held at Kearny High School, especially since the camp was for girls and strictly for girls.

More than 70 young ladies attended the camp, spearheaded by the tutelage of veteran Kearny head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill.

It marked the 14th year that Hill held the camp, a learning experience that has been held with only girls in mind.

“I think it’s important to put it out there that it is girls only,” said Hill, who was a standout 2,000-point scorer during her schoolgirl days at Harrison High School and added another 1,000 points during her career at Pace University. “And word is spreading. I was so impressed with the number of younger kids we had. Girls are starting to play at a younger age, five, six, seven years old. Kids have so much offered to them. There’s a lot to pick from, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue to work with them.”

McGonigle was energetic about what she learned during the week-long camp.

“I worked on ball handling skills that I didn’t know I had,” McGonigle said. “I learned how to put the ball between my legs. I learned a little bit about tricks. It’s been a lot of fun. It really helped me a lot.”

Nour Abedullah also learned a lot about dribbling the ball. Abedullah is an 11-year-old sixth grader at Roosevelt School in Kearny.

“I learned about using my least dominant hand,” Abedullah said. “I also learned how to be a triple threat.”

Abedullah then displayed the triple threat stance, being able to pass, shoot and play defense.

“I learned a lot,” Abedullah said. “I had a lot of fun. I can take what I learned and play in the yard with my three older sisters. Sometimes, I can get them. I definitely think I’m a better player now.”

Tommi Valente is another 11-year-old girl, a sixth grader from Garfield School.

“This makes me want to play basketball a lot,” Valente said. “I think it helps that there are only girls here. I think it will help me a lot when I play (in Kearny Recreation).”

Abbey Granelli is a 10-year-old fifth grader from Roosevelt School. Her father, Bryan, is a member of the Kearny Board of Education, but her basketball teaching came from her grandfather, Mike, who is the legendary former women’s basketball coach at St. Peter’s University, having won more than 600 games during his tenure at the Jersey City institution. Mike Granelli was a long-time resident of Kearny before moving down the shore a few years ago.

“A couple of years ago, Grandpa started teaching me about basketball,” Abbey Granelli said. “He taught me shooting and dribbling skills. I think I got my shooting down. I’m only trying to get better. But coming here helped. I learned how to shoot with my elbows in.”

Abbey said that she watches a lot of basketball, involving her favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, and her favorite player, Stephen Curry.

“This was really a lot of fun,” Granelli said.

Bella Osorio is only six years old and is going into the first grade at Franklin School. She plays a lot of basketball in her backyard with her older sister, Natalie, who is 14 and entering Kearny High School as a freshman this fall.

“I learned a lot about dribbling,” little Bella said. “I learned how to dribble, pass and shoot. I’ve learned enough to play in the backyard with my sisters.”

Natalie Osorio said that the camp will get her prepared to play for Coach Hill at Kearny High.

“I’ve been playing a lot of basketball this summer,” Natalie Osorio said. “I learned that if I want to achieve something, it takes hard work and dedication. It’s not just skill. This camp got me ready for high school.”
Natalie Osorio is a rising star. She’s a face to watch and remember.

Keala Cicchino is an 11-year-old sixth grader from Roosevelt School.

“I definitely learned a lot about ball handling,” said Cicchino, whose mother was a long-time softball coach at Kearny High. “There’s nothing better than coming here.”

Hill welcomed her former coach at Harrison, the legendary Hudson County Hall of Famer Jack Rodgers, as a guest speaker. She was also fortunate to have her former player and current Rutgers University soccer goalkeeper Meghan McClelland as a clinician. McClelland was the 2017-2018 Observer Female Athlete of the Year and was an All-Hudson County basketball standout for Hill during McClelland’s senior year at Kearny.

“Meghan just jumped in and helped us out by saying a few words,” Hill said. “She spoke about the importance of academics and being a good student/athlete. She also got the kids to understand that they can play more than one sport.”

A lot of the campers were repeat attendees, but none more than Hill’s current guard Cheyenne Iverson, who attended her 11th straight camp and will now enter her senior year with the Kardinals in the fall.

“Think about that relationship,” Hill said. “We’ve been together for 11 years.”

Perhaps the littlest of the campers was 5-year-old Macey Hill, who was an avid learner as well.

“I learned about teamwork and how important that is,” little Macey said. “I also learned about shooting. I think I’m a good player.”

Macey better be a good player. Her mom is the head coach at Kearny and organizer of the camp.

“She’s getting better,” Hill said of her daughter. “She loves it.”

So did the dozens of others.

“I can definitely see the improvement,” Hill said. “I see kids dribbling two balls at once and they’re saying, ‘Coach, I have my eyes up.’ They really have a sense of what they needed to do.”

Hill said that she got a kick working with little ones like her daughter.

“The little ones are so much fun,” Hill said. “I have so much fun with them. They absorb everything you say. You hope that they remember something and take it home with them. You just hope to be a good role model.”




More than 70 young ladies participated in the Kearny girls’ basketball camp, solely for girls, under the direction of Kearny High School head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill (center). Photo by Jim Hague


Young Sophia McGonigle (center) works on her ball handling during the Kearny girls’ basketball camp last week at Kearny High School. Photo by Jim Hague


Kearny High School head basketball coach Jody Hill instructs the campers at her all-girls basketball camp last week at Kearny High School. Photo by Jim Hague




Learn more about the writer ...

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.”