Camden is much maligned for its crime- and drug-infested neighborhoods.

In a roundabout way, Jim Horner is trying to do something about it, organizing a series of free sports camps for youngsters who live in the troubled city.

Horner was one of South Jersey's premier head football coaches when he directed Haddon Heights, Cherokee and Haddonfield. He is now an assistant at Camden Catholic, and he is putting together the sports camps for Camden students in fifth to eighth grades. He will hold football camps (July 17, 18 and 19) and basketball camps (July 31, Aug. 1 and 2) at Rutgers-Camden, and will oversee a baseball camp at Campbell's Field on July 24, 25 and 26. All the camps will be held from 9 a.m. until noon.

Horner says the camps are trying to build "character development and bring hope in their lives for their future."

The camps aren't just about sports.

"We try to teach how to make the proper choices in your lives and how to walk away from drugs and gang members," he said.

For more information on the camps, call 609-267-9522 or e-mail Horner at jhorner62@juno.com.

Horner is the ninth-winningest football coach in South Jersey history, with 174 wins. It's an impressive feat. But to me, it's not nearly as impressive as his work to help make Camden a better place to live.

Although he is only a junior, Holy Spirit linebacker Marcus Witherspoon is being besieged by college offers. An Inquirer all-South Jersey selection last fall after registering a school-record 17 sacks, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Witherspoon says that Michigan, Florida, Miami and Boston College are at the top of his list.

Stay tuned.

Add Washington Township pitcher Bill Rice to the list of South Jersey baseball-player-of- the-year candidates. The list also includes Seneca's Dan Grovatt, West Deptford's David Giuliani, Cherokee's Alex Pracher, Gary Wilson and Ben Flanary, Deptford's Sheldon Johnson, St. Augustine's Alexi Colon and Juan Mejia, Lower Cape May's Matt Szczur, Mainland's Charles Law, and Pennsauken's Chris Berroa, among others.

Rice, a University of Maryland-bound senior, is 4-0 with a 0.60 ERA and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning. He has pitched consecutive one-hitters, against Timber Creek and Winslow Township.

Although Washington Township has a mediocre record, it will be tough to beat in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament when Rice is on the mound.

It will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Washington Township.

Top-ranked Cherokee, which hasn't won the Diamond Classic championship since 1982, will face No. 2 Bishop Eustace in a game that figures to be much closer than their recent regular-season meeting - a 17-2 Cherokee romp.

Bill Haessler, Cherokee's veteran coach, will miss Saturday's showdown to attend the wedding of his son, Dan.

"The team will be in good hands," Haessler said, referring to assistants Marc Petragnani and Steve Dolores.

Bishop Eustace senior righthander Chris Monaco, who went 7-0 last year, has been sidelined for most of this season because of shoulder tendinitis, but he has been cleared to pitch by a physical therapist. Monaco, who threw 70 pitches in the bullpen eight days ago, hopes to pitch in a few games this week.

"I'm excited and can't wait to get back," said Monaco, who will pitch at St. Joseph's next year.

If Monaco gets back to form, Eustace could successfully defend its state baseball title in the Non-Public B section, a group that should also feature Gloucester Catholic, Sacred Heart, and St. Rose of Belmar.

Post a question or a comment for Sam Carchidi at http://go.philly.com/asksam.

He can also be reached at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.