KEARNY – If there was proof needed that the area had overcome the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, one just needed to take a gander at the soccer fields in “Soccertown, USA.”
If you saw it, there were approximately 175 youngsters attending the Kearny Youth Soccer Camp at places like Harvey Field, Franklin School Field and the Kearny High School field. Boys and girls from the ages of toddler to teenager were taking part in the week-long camp, organized in a collective effort by the high school teams and the Kearny Thistle youth program.
The excitement abounded throughout all the youngsters, who were just happy to be in the bright sunshine and summer heat and humidity instead of being locked inside their respective homes a year ago due to COVID-19, which canceled the annual soccer learning activity.
In fact, just a few months ago, it was unsure whether there would be any outdoor activities, much less a soccer camp with kids in close proximity of each other.
But Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the COVID-19 regulations for most of the state and that included any type of camp-related activities.
Thus, the Kearny Youth Soccer Camp became official once again.
Scott Millar, an assistant coach with the Kearny boys’ soccer team and one of the organizers of the camp, said that the turnout was not overly shocking to him.
“I’m not surprised with the turnout at all,” said Millar, the son of the long-time head coach and former athletic director John Millar. “I think not having it last year is a factor for the turnout this year. We have a good turnout from younger age, kids four years old. We have about 30 of those kids and another 40 that are in the 5-6-7 age group. It’s really a great thing to see. A lot of the summer programs in the area have been shut down and kids miss out on those. But we’ve been able to go.”
Millar said that he loves working with the younger kids.
“They’re probably the best group to deal with, because for some reason, the heat doesn’t bother them,” Millar said. “They really just keep going. They’re all super excited to be here. They want to listen and learn and have fun. If we can sprinkle in a little soccer here and there as we go along, we’ll be fine. And we do just that. We have some in our youngest group that have never played soccer before, so we teach them the fundamentals. In some cases, the technique is already there, but they learn what it’s like to score a goal, learn what that’s all about.”
Millar said that there was some unsure moments whether the camp would actually take place this summer to COVID-19 regulations.
“We knew that we might be taking some sort of risk,” Millar said. “We had no idea of what we were going to have. We weren’t sure we would have use of the facilities. We kept going through the planning stages as if we were going to have it. We really wanted the kids to experience the normalcy that we had two summers ago.”
As it turned out, it was better.
“It couldn’t be any better than what it is,” Millar said after sending campers all across the Harvey Field campus for their first organized drill of the day. “We have some incredible staff members from our high school teams and our Thistle coaches. They all excel with these age groups and have done a great job here. It’s absolutely rewarding to see it all come together.”
Little Vita Araujo is just five years old and will be attending first grade at Roosevelt School in two months. Araujo was one of the quickest learners at the camp and was one of her group’s leaders, instructing others where they should go. It was precious to see.
“I’m really excited to be here,” Araujo said. “I didn’t even know they had a camp here, but I was too young anyway.”
So what did Vita learn in the camp.
“I learned about toe touches,” Araujo said. “I think I’m better now with that.”
Did Araujo enjoy herself?
“It was really a lot of fun,” Araujo said. “I’m glad I’m here.”
Six-year-old Robert Mateo was also having the time of his life.
“This is so much fun, because I get to play real soccer,” Mateo said. “I’ve played soccer like 100 times, but never like this.”
Mateo was asked what he liked best.
“I liked learning about dribbling,” Mateo said. “I feel better about my ball handing since I’ve been here. I was worried about not having this camp, but I’m happy to be here.”
Five-year-old Landon Ribeiro is headed into kindergarten in September.
“I liked kicking the ball on the ground,” young Landon said. “It was a lot of fun.”
It’s obviously much better than kicking the ball in the air, right?
Katherine Stacy is a 6-year-old soccer enthusiast who will be in the first grade in Roosevelt School.
“I also like dribbling,” Stacy said. “I’m very happy with what I learned. I usually play soccer with my friends, but here, there are so many others who play soccer as well. I’m really excited to be here.”
Needless to say, the younger kids could speak for the older ones when they say that soccer is back in “Soccertown, USA.” It’s alive and well. Obviously.
Araujo especially liked the way the camp came to a close every day.
“We had Popsicles and sprinklers to run through,” Araujo said.
Now there’s a summer tradition that everyone can relate to.
These youngsters are having a kick at the annual Kearny Youth Soccer Camp at Harvey Field last week. Photo by Jim Hague
Young Vita Araujo waves to the photographer while she takes part in a ball handling drill at the Kearny Youth Soccer Camp. Photo by Jim Hague
It’s a race for the ball between these two young men at Harvey Field in the annual Kearny Youth Soccer Camp. 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.”