By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / December 15, 2012
Elisa Parsons was wearing a white Wellesley High basketball fleece over her purple Stonehill College T-shirt at Bentley University's Dana Center in Waltham.The attire reflected her Saturday afternoon itinerary and her team loyalties.
First, Parsons took in the Northeast-10 Conference matchup between the Stonehill women and archrival Bentley. Then it was on to Wellesley to watch the Raider girls in their 53-50 season-opening victory over visiting Longmeadow High.
The 90-year-old Parsons is affectionately called "Aunt Lisa" by the Wellesley players, who are coached by her great-niece, Kristin Cieri, and by the Stonehill team, including junior captain Mary Louise Dixon, who starred at Wellesley High.
Dixon's parents, Tom and Pauline, provide rides for Parsons, who lives near the Stonehill campus in Easton, so she can follow both teams.
"Aunt Lisa has such a wonderful spirit that draws you to her,'' said Stonehill coach Trisha Brown, a member of Norwood High's Athletic Hall of Fame who has guided the Skyhawks to an 8-1 start this season. Their only loss, 66-50, was to unbeaten Bentley, ranked second nationally in Division 2.
"When I first met her, I couldn't believe her age. She's a great fan and a special part of the Skyhawk family. We should all have Aunt Lisas in our lives.''
Girls' basketball was vastly different when Parsons, nee Carrara, starred on the court, and for the field hockey team, seven-plus decades ago at Stoughton High.
"The court was divided in half and the guards couldn't cross that line," recalled Parsons, who was voted "Most Athletic" in the Stoughton High class of 1940. "You could take just one dribble, but once I had 30 points in a game even though I'm 5-foot-1. Imagine that! 5-1 and I was a forward, but I used to play basketball with the boys and that made me a better player," she said.
"We didn't have much of a gym back then compared to today, but to me, it was wonderful. I started playing basketball in junior high and I loved it right away,'' added Parsons, who coached CYO basketball in Stoughton when Harry Truman was president, and was hale enough to play basketball with her grandsons when she was in her 70s.
"Just some shooting, dribbling and passing,'' she said modestly. "I was trying to give them a feel for the game.''
Parsons received her Wellesley High warm-up top after last season's last game, as a gift from senior captain Shannon Magpiong, whose father, Glen, coaches the Wellesley boys' varsity.
When Wellesley scrimmages Oliver Ames High in Easton, Parsons rides the team bus to the game. She is also a guest at the squad's annual banquet.
Cieri, who has coached the varsity at Wellesley since 1996, said her great-aunt still goes to Red Sox and Celtics games, and when she talks about the Celtics she brings up names like Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy.
"It's amazing how well she still analyzes the game,'' said Cieri. "After every game, I ask her opinion and I value it. She loved watching [Mary Louise Dixon] and that's when she became Aunt Lisa to our team.''
Parsons has been a loyal supporter of her family's, and extended family's, athletic endeavors for decades.
Her nephew, Cieri's father, John, coached basketball, football, and track at Westwood High and was the first athletic director and men's basketball coach at Massachusetts Bay Community College.
In September, John and Kristin Cieri were inducted into the Norwood High Athletic Hall of Fame, with Parsons in attendance.
Denise Carrara, Parsons' niece, coached girls' basketball at Stoughton High, and is in the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. Carrara is the junior varsity softball coach at East Bridgewater High.
When she turned 90 on Oct. 11, Parsons was given an elaborate photo and memorabilia album designed by her daughter, Lisa Caudle of Foxborough, entitled "90 Pages for 90 Years.''
On Oct. 2, 1954, Parsons was at Harvard Stadium to watch John Cieri and his University of Massachusetts Amherst football teammates upset the Crimson, 13-7.
"I remember that Ted Kennedy played for Harvard that day,'' said Parsons, a field hockey captain in high school who designed a pattern for a new and more comfortable two-piece uniform that each team member used.
When Wellesley High — with Dixon and her older sister Eleni starting in the backcourt — defeated Millbury for the state girls' title in 2008 at the DCU Center in Worcester, she joined in the celebration.
"To have someone like Aunt Lisa in our lives is such a blessing. We love her,'' said Pauline Dixon.
"She's just amazing,'' added daughter Mary Louise, who is leading the Skyhawks in points (13.3), assists (5.0) and steals (1.3 per game) and is Stonehill's second leading rebounder. "And she definitely knows her basketball.''
Parsons is the youngest of seven children.
"The others are gone,'' she said. "So I'm their matriarch in spirit.''
Her father, Joseph, was a steamfitter at Springdale Finishing Co. in Canton. Her mother, Annie, worked as a stitcher at Nasher Manufacturing in Stoughton.
"In the winter, we used to store apples and pears from our trees in the basement, and we had chickens in the back yard,'' she recalled. "It was the Depression and we had to take care of ourselves. Dad even chopped wood to help our family.''
Kristin Cieri said her great-aunt is a family link to the past and an inspiration for the present.
When Parsons was being picked up en route to Oliver Ames, the Wellesley players began cheering from the bus as she waved to them.
"The smile on Aunt Lisa's face that day,'' said Cieri, "meant it was the start of a new season for all of us.''
Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.