It’s hoop heaven for host of young ladies at Kearny camp

KEARNY — Makayla David is a 12-year-old soon-to-be seventh grader at Walker Middle School in Nutley.

But when it came time to attend a summer basketball camp, David went where she felt comfortable.

“I wanted to come to Kearny to be with Coach Jody (Hill),” David said. “I’ve come to this camp three times. I was really excited to hear that there was going to be a camp this year.”

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic caused the entire world to shut down a year ago and forced anyone and everyone indoors to remain safe and free from harm. It also meant that the camp run by Hill – the local basketball legend, the Hudson County Sports Hall of Famer, the 2,000-point scorer at Harrison High School and for the last two decades, the head girls’ basketball coach at neighboring rival Kearny High – had to be canceled for the first time in history.

Hill said that she was not sure whether the camp would even take place this summer.

“To be honest, we were debating back and forth whether to have it,” Hill said. “At the last minute, we decided to go for it. I was struggling with the pandemic. It was such an awkward feeling.  But as soon as I realized it was going to happen, I was happy with the turnout. We didn’t even put out fliers promoting it.”

With that in mind, more than 75 girls showed up in the Kearny High School gymnasium recently, much to the delight of Hill.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Hill said. “It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. I was getting the chance to meet some of the kids who are coming up. It was a chance for those kids to know me and for me to know them.”

Hill was impressed with the athletic ability of the girls in attendance.

“But I’m always pleasantly surprised with the amount of talent we have in the area,” Hill said. “I’m also impressed with the eagerness of the kids to learn the sport. They were all willing to catch on quickly and turn their athletic ability into becoming basketball players. I am glad that the parents felt safe to send their kids to us to learn in a good environment. It just felt normal having the kids here again.”

David said that she enjoyed learning about ballhandling drills – and there’s no one better to learn from locally about handling the basketball than Hill, one of the all-time best point guards in the history of Hudson County girls’ basketball.

“I learned some dribbling skills and how to handle the ball,” David said. “I play soccer as well, but I’m better at basketball. I was reeally excited to be here with the other girls. It meant a lot to me to be here.”

Arelis Ruiz-Martinez is an 11-year-old who will enter the sixth grade at Franklin School in a few weeks. It was Ruiz-Martinez’s first time at the Kearny girls’ basketball camp, although Arelis’ older sister Esmeralda was a standout player for Hill at Kearny the last few years.

“I know the camp helped my sister a lot, so I thought it could help me,” Ruiz-Martinez said. “Basketball is my favorite sport. I always go into my backyard and play, but I wanted to get the chance to play with others. I was happy to learn how to dribble with two basketballs at the same time. It was hard in the beginning, but it got easier by the end of the week. I’m so glad I came. It was a lot of fun. I plan on coming again next year.”

Isabella Altieri is an 8-year-old resident of Livingston, but she made sure she came to the all-girls’ camp in Kearny.

“I was real excited about it,” Altieri said. “I learned a lot about dribbling. I learned how to dribble with my left hand. I used to only dribble with my right. I’m glad I came, because I had a lot of fun.”w

Sophia Sosa is also a resident of Livingston, but the 9-year-old fourth grader wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else this summer.

“I learned how to do the spider dribble,” Sosa said. “I feel like I’m a better player now. This encourages me to want to play more.”

Hailey Paris is a 12-year-old Kearny resident who will attend seventh grade in a few weeks.

“It was so great to learn ballhandling skills with Coach Jody,” Paris said. “It was the first time I came to this camp, but I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. I thought I could learn some new things and have some fun and it was a lot of fun.”

Paris is a competitive dancer, but she was glad to be playing basketball this summer.

“I usually have a dancing schedule all over the place, but this was so much fun,” Paris said.

So what’s harder to do, dancing or basketball?

“I think basketball is harder,” Paris said. “But I’m really not experienced in basketball. Now I’ll be ready when time comes to play basketball this year.”

Needless to say, the Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp was a rousing success, thanks to the legend who ran the show.

“It was really a lot of fun to have the girls back in the gym,” Hill said. “I think everyone missed it last year.”
That’s an understatement.

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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.”