KEARNY – Sure, Kearny is readily known as “Soccertown, USA,” after the United States National Team that played in the 1990 World Cup featured three players, namely Tony Meola, John Harkes and Tab Ramos, all hailed from Kearny.
But after seeing the popularity of another sport, namely volleyball, simply explode in recent years, maybe volleyball could run a close second locally.
After all, if you take a trip past West Hudson Park and see the volleyball courts there being utilized or perhaps a jaunt around the newly refurbished Gunnell Oval and the new volleyball court there, you might just think that volleyball is earning its proper place of prominence.
“Volleyball is certainly healthy in Kearny,” said Kearny High School head boys’ volleyball coach Bill Mullins.
After all, Mullins’ Kardinals enjoyed a great season this past season, a volleyball campaign that resulted in the Kards competing in both the Hudson County Tournament and NJSIAA state sectional finals two months ago.
And Mullins hosted the first volleyball camp held in the town in three years, a camp that welcomed nearly 70 youngsters to the Kearny High gymnasium recently.
“We had a great season this year,” Mullins said. “I think it helped to stir up some interest in the sport. Hopefully, it can continue in the future.”
Mullins said that he welcomed a host of volleyball newcomers to the camp.
“It helps the kids get a chance to know me before high school,” Mullins said. “It helped them to get an interest in volleyball and want to play the sport. You see a lot of interest in volleyball now. Kids never got a chance to see volleyball played before. Now, they saw it and they said that they wanted to give it a shot. We had a good turnout. This proves that there is an interest in playing volleyball. It’s becoming a popular sport. The kids want to learn.”
Mullins and a lot of his former and current players helped to teach youngsters all the proper fundamentals in the sport – like blocking, hitting, passing, receiving.
“We also had some fun games for the kids,” Mullins said. “It definitely helped to keep things moving.”
But a good portion of the youngsters at the camp were first-timers.
“I think that showed the reason why we had to have a camp like this,” Mullins said. “There’s no Little League for volleyball. The kids don’t know how to play until they get to high school. Maybe they play a little in gym class, but there’s really no developmental league for volleyball. The kids are really not exposed to the sport like the other sports. So we get them here and teach them a little bit how to play. It’s important to have something like this. They can see that it’s really a fun game to play. You get to see the potential of the young players before they get to high school. Then you are ahead of the game. Every little bit counts. I think there’s a feeling that kids want to play volleyball.”
The camp was for both boys and girls, so that made for a very unique setting.
Jonathan Petrillo is a 13-year-old eighth grader in the Kearny Middle School who never played organized volleyball.
“I just play in the park with my friends,” Petrillo said. “I like the sport, so when I heard about this camp, I signed up right away. I was excited to learn about it.”
Petrillo said that he learned how to properly spike the ball.
“I would rather be an outside hitter,” Petrillo said. “It’s really a lot of fun, playing with my friends. I also learned the fundamentals that I never knew before. I’m very glad I came. Even though it was only for four days, I learned a lot.”
Caleb Baptista is also a 13-year-old middle school student who said that he plays a lot of volleyball in West Hudson Park.
“I never played organized volleyball, but I was familiar with the camp,” Baptista said. “I knew that it was coming up this summer, so I was excited. I was waiting for it to happen.”
Baptista also learned the proper technique in spiking the ball.
“I learned about the proper footwork,” Baptista said. “I learned how to go up for a spike or how to jump serve. I definitely can get it over the net now.”
Baptista said that he went to a lot of the Kearny High matches this season and that piqued his interest in the sport as well.
“I learned so much moving forward from here,” Baptista said. “I’m definitely going to play more now.”
Aaron Suarez is a 12-year-old who will attend seventh grade in the Kearny Middle School in a few weeks.
“I was always interested in playing volleyball,” Suarez said. “I just didn’t know how to join. I have a brother and a sister who play.”
Suarez said that he became a better server at the camp.
“I learned how to hit it straight,” Suarez said. “I like playing volleyball. I just had no one to play with outside. I wish there were more days in this camp.”
Aliya Jorge is 14 years old and will attend County Prep in Jersey City, but could very well be a player at Kearny High, considering that County Prep doesn’t have its own team.
“My cousins also play volleyball,” Jorge said. “That’s how I wanted to get involved. I wanted to give it a try. This is going to help me to get ready for tryouts. I see the difference in how they play in high school and I’ll be ready to go. This has been a lot of fun.”
Isabelle Moura is a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Kearny High this fall.
“I only got a chance to practice with my dad,” Moura said. “I went to Lincoln School last year and played a little before the pandemic. Sometimes, it helps to learn a new sport, so I was very excited to do this. I hadn’t played volleyball in a while, but I got to learn all the basics of volleyball again. I learned about setting and spiking.”
And making new friends as well. That always helps learning a new sport.
More than 60 youngsters participated in the Kearny High School volleyball camp recently. Photo by Jim Hague.
From left, Johanna Escalante, Valeria Garcia, head instructor Bill Mullins, Logan Crispin and Gabriel Santos were all part of the Kearny High School volleyball camp for both boys and girls 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.”