August 21, 2017

An Exclusive Club: 1,000 Career High School Basketball Points

(25 Years Ago for Townie Kevin Bliss)

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East Providence High School and Bayview Academy made it pretty far through state basketball championship play this year. Additionally EP's boys first year basketball coach, Joe Andrade, was selected as a Coach of the Year in RI and EP girls coach, Mike Solitro, was similarly recognized. With the excitement of March Madness basketball and the successful seasons enjoyed by EPHS girls and boys basketball as well as Bay View Academy, the Reporter reached out to some high scoring basketball heroes of Ep's past.

Kevin Bliss, Class of 1992
A major goal of most high school and college basketball players is to score 1,000 points over a career. A select few have reached this goal in Rhode Island. One former player achieving that goal just celebrated his 25 year anniversary of this milestone at EPHS. On January 31, 1992, Ep Townie Kevin Bliss scored his 1,000th point in a game against Hendricken. Bliss would go on to score 1,121 points in his storied Townie career.

"It's been nice to be recognized as one of the best scorers to play at EP. Scoring 1,000 pts. is not easy. It's been 25 years since then and although EP has had many great players, I don't think many have done it since," Kevin Bliss told The Reporter. Besides basketball, Bliss, a 1992 graduate, ran track all three years at EPHS and was All-State in the 4x100 his Junior and Senior years. Playing alongside Kevin Bliss was his twin brother Kenny Bliss. "Of course the best point guard I ever played with was my twin brother Kenny," smiled Kevin. Kenny Bliss' career, while great at EPHS, really took off in college. Kenny excelled at Rhode Island College and became a 1,000 point career scorer in college and was inducted into the R.I.C. Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I played with a lot of good athletes and appreciate them to this day. I grew up playing with guys like Quinn Britto, Dion Hazard, Alex Butler and my brother Kenny," said Bliss. "RIP to Coach Bernie Pina who believed in me as soon as he saw me play & gave me the starting point guard position as a Sophomore. I've always been proud that I started every game I played at EP." A particular distinction for Bliss' scoring record is the fact that he did so within a three year career compared to the current four year high schools.

After high school Kevin Bliss played basketball for legendary coach Vin Cullen at C.C.R.I. Bliss was the starting point guard his first year there and was selected 2nd team All-New England. At one point, CCRI became known nationally for its basketball program. "I was proud of that selection because I was always a shooting guard but converted my game to point guard and had a very good year," said Bliss. Bliss earned an associate's degree and went on to work at the then Narragansett Electric, now National Grid. It's a job he has had since 1997. "I work in the CMS dept (Customer Metering Services) & do meter work in the field all over Rhode Island, now entering my 20th year!" Bliss proudly added.

Bliss stays active in East Providence whenever he has the time. After high school he volunteered to coach 4th and 5th graders at Silver Spring School and worked with former Principal David Britto to start a night basketball program at Kent Heights School. "It's important to give back to one's community," said Bliss.

"I have lived in Rumford for 15 years and will have been married 15 years this May to my wife Stacy. We have 3 beautiful children. My daughter Jazmyn graduated from East Providence High in 2015 and now attends CCRI in Lincoln and is doing very well," said Bliss. "She tried basketball for a year but didn't like it. The genealogy for twins has continued in the Bliss family. "Stacy and I have twin 7 year old boys, Landon & LeBron, who attend Orlo Ave school in EP. I have been coaching them in basketball the last 2 years and they love the game already," Bliss noted. "Now that I have children, it's important to me that they know about my accomplishments and as a Dad I think it's cool that I did something they can be proud of - knowing their Dad is the #1 scorer to play at EP."

Clearly some of Bliss' fondest memories go back to that game 25 years ago when he scored his 1,000th career point in the EPHS gym. Bliss still gets to the Townie gym whenever he can. "I've been to a few EP basketball games this year. They had a great season. I know and have coached some of the kids in the Mohawks summer basketball blacktop league over the past two summers. "I had a lot of great teachers at EP and still see some from time to time. My Spanish teacher Mrs. Whittet was my favorite and I still keep in touch with her. Also Mr (Luis) Carvalho was a great gym teacher and I loved how he interacted with his students," reminisced Bliss. "Overall, I love being a Townie & love the City of East Providence."

Bliss hasn't quite hung up his playing sneakers. "I still play 3 times a week. I play in a 40 and over league on Sundays at West End Community Center in Providence and in another 40 plus in Seekonk on Wednesdays and I play on Mondays at Gordon School. I still love the game too much to stop playing. I hope I can play when I'm 60!"

Michaela Wiggins, EPHS 2011
The first girl to score 1,000 points for Townie basketball is Michaela Wiggins, class of 2011. Currently Wiggins is a successful actress of film, television and theatre. Wiggins who lives in Florida, flew to Rhode Island in March to watch her alma mater Townies in state playoff action. "I flew in to see the girls play in the division two championship a few weekends ago, once a Townie always a Townie!" Wiggins told The Reporter.

"Playing basketball at East Providence helped shape me into the person I am today. We worked hard every day in practice and were held to a very high standard. I developed a great work ethic and was taught to never quit," recalls Wiggins. "Scoring my 1000th point was a huge milestone and it felt good knowing that those points went towards helping my team win. The points record was great but I do think that surpassing 1000 rebounds was bigger for me because I wasn’t the tallest girl in the league. I loved playing hard under the basket. I was extremely lucky to have some wonderful teammates who helped me get there," said Wiggins.

Wiggins moved to Florida for school a few years ago and shortly after became an EMT. Regarding her acting career Wiggins said that : "it is such an interesting culture and has opened my eyes to the world in ways I never expected. In addition to my acting for film, theatre and television, I hope to do some work on stage soon. Acting has taken me to many places and has given me so many incredible experiences so far. I am currently filming a pilot for a series and have several other projects lined up this year. I return home to EP as often as my schedule allows to see my family and visit my favorite spots," added Wiggins. One thing that Michaela Wiggins is not an actor for, is her basketball skills.

Lisa Ercolano, Bay View, Class of 1998: 1244 pts
BayView Graduate Lisa Ercolano, 1998, has scored the most hoop points in the long history of BayView basketball. Ercolano reached a total of 1244 total points scored in the prestigious all-girls school on Pawtucket Avenue. The Reporter reached out and found the former Bengal athlete in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she is now a well-regarded surgeon. Dr. Ercolano is an oncology orthopedic surgeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Western Pennsylvania Hospital.

"I have great, yet vague memories of the night when I reached the 1000th point in my basketball career at Bay View," said Dr. Ercolano. "My memories are great when I look at pictures from that night and the signed basketball that I have from back then. I do remember being more concerned with winning games as a team, rather than an individual award," added Ercolano. "At the time we had a good run through state playoffs. We were top of our division and had a pretty good team. I remember that we won a couple of games in the playoffs but didn't win the state championship that year. It was a great time with great teammates."

Dr. Ercolano, who lived in Providence while at Bay View, hasn't lived in Rhode Island since she graduated from Bay View. She received her medical degree from University of California Davis School of Medicine and has been in practice between 6-10 years. She is one of 30 at Western Pennsylvania Hospital who specialize in Orthopedic Surgery. “We are very happy to welcome Dr. Ercolano to our orthopedic and oncology teams at Allegheny Health Network,” said Patrick DeMeo, MD, Chair, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Allegheny Health Network. “Her exceptional skills as a surgeon and unique expertise provide us with a critical new resource for patients in the region who are diagnosed with bone tumors and other complicated orthopedic developmental disorders.” She received her fellowship training in orthopedic oncology at the Harvard Combined/Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Without question, I believe that youth sports and school sports is very important. It may sound cliché but sports can teach one how to work with one another," said Ercolano. "It's also not a bad thing to be competitive and to want to win. Sports involvement can teach one about prioritizing time and it just helps to put things together," she added. "I enjoy getting back to the school and seeing the new gym. I remember the old smaller gym without a three-point line. It's nice to see that sports is growing. I do keep up with some high school friends," said Ercolano. "I also am proud that my father was a basketball coach at Bay View. He didn't coach me, as I had graduated by then, but he did win some championships for the school. That's pretty special I think."

Derek LaCroix, EPHS Class of 2002
Derek LaCroix scored his 1000th career point on the team's first basket of the night in a game against Rogers High School on February 18, 2002 at EPHS. LaCroix tossed in 18 points to help the Townies defeat Rogers High 67-61. "My team mates were great and I really enjoyed playing for coach Kevin Monagle," said LaCroix.

LaCroix also played volleyball at EP. "I was part of the team that won back to back State Championships from 2000-2002," LaCroix told The Reporter from his Warwick, RI home. "It was great playing for Coach ( Luis) Carvalho." Carvalho's boys and girls volleyball teams both won state championships in 2002. LaCroix was a key player in volleyball and was an All-State selection.

Angie Leonardo, EPHS Class of 2016
The second girl to score 1,000 points for the Townies is Angela Leonardo, class of 2016. Leonardo's record was also set as East Providence made a good run through the state playoffs. Leonardo was a talented ball handler for the Townies and prolific scorer. Leonardo scored 5 three-pointers and went 8 for 10 at the foul line, adding to her total of 27 points in the victory over EWG reaching the coveted 1000 point milestone. After the 1000 point victory game, Leonardo told The Reporter, "I think our defense is good and we're a pretty solid team going into the playoffs. The record is nice but our goal is the team championship."

Alex Butler, EPHS Class of 1993 (2,398 points for RIC)
Veteran EPHS volleyball and basketball coach Alex Butler, 1993, was one of the best players to dribble a basketball or slap a volleyball for EP. However Butler just missed scoring 1000 points for EP at a time when the high school was a three-year school, not four. Butler sustained an injury which sidelined him for a prolonged time during his high school days. Even with the time lost to injury, Butler was a prolific basketball and volleyball athlete at EPHS.

After high school Alex Butler went to Rhode Island College. A healthy Butler blossomed at R.I.C. "Alex Butler was one of the most dominant basketball players in New England during the early 1990s. He starred for the Anchormen from 1993-97, earning All-American honors as a junior and senior in 1995-96 and 1996-97," states the Rhode Island College athletic web site.

During his career, Butler was the biggest impact player in the Little East Conference. In addition, he earned First Team All-Star kudos and Robbins Scholar-Athlete honors in 1995-96 and 1996-97 from the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at EP and at RIC," said Butler. "We've had great athletes in East Providence and continue to do so." At one point while Butler was at R.I.C., the team had 4 Townies starting on the team. Joining Butler back then were Kenny Bliss, Derek Campbell and Frank Minikon.

He closed out his career as RIC’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,398 points. He received the John E. Hetherman Award, signifying him as RIC’s top male senior athlete, in 1998. He ranks in the top ten all-time in numerous career, single-season and game statistical categories at RIC.

Butler was elected to the Rhode Island College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003. His jersey number was retired by R.I.C. in 2005. Butler also was an assistant basketball coach for three years at RIC. He is currently a physical education teacher at Martin Middle School in East Providence and coaches EPHS volleyball and has recently retired from coaching Ep High boys basketball.

Jennifer Dygon DeGroot, Class of 2001
Again a key factor here is the change in high school years from three to four. Once the 9th grade was moved to the high school, certain sports and statistics were impacted. One former EPHS basketball player not officially in the 1000 point club, is current Martin Middle School teacher, Jennifer Dygon DeGroot, EPHS 2001 graduate. Dygon DeGroot was part of a two-year undefeated State champion Riverside Junior High School team. She was a prolific scorer and ball handler for then coach George Sarganis' awesome Riverside Vikings. Because the 9th grade was not yet in the high school, her statistics only included grades 10-12. "Yeah, I missed out on that milestone because of that. But I still had a great run and a great time," Dygon DeGroot said. If her 9th through 12th grade points been combined, she would have amassed over 1400 points.

EPHS and Bay View 1,000 Point Club Members 
EPHS (Girls): Michaela Wiggins, Class of 2011; Angie Leonardo, Class of 2016. St. Mary's Bay View: Lisa Ercolano, 1244 pts., Kerri Augenstein, 1202 pts., Deirdre Fuller, 1123 pts., Meredith McGair, 1049 pts.

EPHS (Boys): Kevin Bliss, Class of 1992, Bobby Perry, Class of 2007, Derek LaCroix, Class of 2002 (Alex Butler and Kenny Bliss reached this goal in college ball).

(This story attempted to research all players known to have scored 1,000 or more career basketball points for EPHS or BayView. The writer regrets if anyone was overlooked. If you know of any athlete who is missing from this list, please forward that info to bobrodericks@gmail.com. An update will be published!)

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