NUTLEY – Mike Perna is a 10-year-old Nutley resident who is headed into the fifth grade at Yanticaw School. He’s also a big soccer fan.
So when the annual Nutley Soccer Camp was postponed from last July due to the coronavirus pandemic, Perna was more than upset.
“I was very disappointed,” Perna said. “I didn’t get the chance to see my friends that I normally see.”
Nick Scharlat is a 12-year-old headed to the seventh grade at the Nutley Middle School. Scharlat had the same sentiments as Perna.
“Soccer is my favorite sport,” Scharlat said. “I got lazy because of COVID (-19). It really made me lazy. I didn’t want to do anything. I just stayed home.”
But this summer, nothing was going to stop the Nutley Soccer Camp.
“I think people are ready to be out,” said Mike DiPiano, the head girls’ soccer coach at Nutley High School and the director of the summer camp. “Kids are ready to be kids again. We wanted to give our kids a summer experience that they could remember. We were happy to provide a safe, fun, happy experience.”
And DiPiano welcomed approximately 100 youngsters to his first of two camp sessions at the multi-sport facility across the street from the recreation center, the second being August 2 through August 5.
The camp is for both boys and girls, which has never caused a problem at DiPiano’s camp.
“We’ve always had both boys and girls together,” DiPiano said. “The kids are most all friends and have all been together before. It’s almost 50-50 boys/girls.”
DiPiano welcomes kids of all ages.
“We do have about 25 first and second graders,” DiPiano said. “We give those kids a basic introduction to soccer.”
And DiPiano is impressed with the way youngsters just naturally gravitate.
“We have kids who grow up going to our camp,” DiPiano said. “We get them as youngsters, then they move up to being ball girls for our games and then eventually our players. I’d say that 90 percent of our soccer players at Nutley attended this camp. There’s a special thing about Nutley. The kids just love being here. Some of them are lifers, here every year.”
Audrey Dunlay is 13 years old and is an eighth grader at Nutley’s Middle School.
“I was pretty sad when there wasn’t anything to do last summer,” Dudlay said. “All I could do was play with my brother David in the backyard.”
Dylan Jasnowitz is a 10-year-old fifth grader at Radcliffe School.
“I was pretty disappointed last summer,” Jasnowitz said. “I either sat around the house and did nothing or went outside my house for a little bit. It was kind of hard to do anything.”
But like the other youngsters in attendance, both Dunlay and Jasnowitz could not wait to get a chance to attend the camp.
“I was very excited about it,” Dunlay said. “I was looking forward to it.”
“I was actually happy about it, because I didn’t want to be home again,” Jasnowitz said. “I asked my parents if I could go.”
The students were asked what was the most important thing that they learned during the week. Dunlay’s response was startling.
“I learned all about proper conditioning for soccer,” Dunlay said.
Imagine a teenager talking about conditioning before she ever steps a foot into high school? Pretty impressive.
“We pride ourselves on that,” DiPiano said. “Part of the camp is dedicated to proper soccer fitness. Everyone needs to be fit in order to play. It also gives them a hint of what it is going to be like when they come to us.”
There’s only one problem with that. Since Tom Tolve announced his resignation as the head coach of the Nutley boys’ soccer team, there has not been a replacement named, so the male campers have to rely on DiPiano’s conditioning drills in order to get ready.
The other campers learned other facets of the game.
“I learned about better ball control,” Jasnowitz said. “I feel like I’m doing better with that now.”
“I learned about shooting,” Scharlat said. “I learned how to hit the ball higher.”
“I learned about how to keep the ball,” Perna said. “If you bounce the ball, the defender won’t be able to kick it out of bounds.”
But there was one other common thread between the kids.
“It was a lot of fun,” Perna said. “I got to see my friends and meet new friends.”
“I’m glad to be here,” Scharlat said. “It was so much fun.”
“It was fun,” Dunlay said. “It’s much better than just sitting home.”
“It was much better this year than last year,” Jasnowitz said. “Last year really was a disappointment.”
DiPiano was pleased with the incredible turnout. It was a sign that Nutley was getting past the pandemic.
“I think the turnout is great for the community,” DiPiano said. “It’s great for the kids, because they needed to get back to normal. I think the majority of kids can’t wait for the start of soccer season and this can help them to get ready. I hope that they do other camps as well.”
The journey to visit other summer camps will continue this week.
The Nutley soccer camp was full go with more than 100 youngsters participating in the week-long instructional camp. Photo by Jim Hague
The grade school campers go through a ball handling drill at the Nutley Soccer Camp recently. 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.”