Rhode Island does not hide its size, but the smallest state packs a punch. East Providence carries the same sort of mentality as it fights for its space in the spotlight.
While its famous namesake serves as the capital, East Providence rises to prominence in other ways. One of its hallmarks: a passion for soccer and the opportunities the community is provided to play the game.
“East Providence is special because for a small town there is a lot of soccer opportunity,” said Marsha Giroux, the president of AYSO United East Providence. “With there being so many kids with families deeply interested in soccer, we bring to the table the chance for the entire family to play. We start them at age 3 and have leagues for adults. No other club can boast that. The love for soccer is strong here; we want to encourage and deepen that love however we can.”
East Providence has made its mark in soccer in New England over the years. Portuguese Social Clubs fielded adult teams in the Luso American Soccer Association in the 1970s. Pedro Braz — born in Angola — went to East Providence High School, was a two-time first-team All-State and one-time All-New England and All-American selection and went on to play professionally in Puerto Rico and with the Western Massachusetts Pioneers.
For all of its historic success, 2016 proved to be a special year for soccer in East Providence.
One example of that success was when the East Providence girls soccer team won the school’s first-ever state championship.
“The first banner to ever be hung up in East Providence High School to say girls soccer champions, it’s a lifetime achievement for these young ladies,” EPHS head coach Angelo Pizzi said in an article on the RhodyBeat.com website. “They’ll never forget this. I have just been blown away by their accomplishments, their work ethic and their off-the-field stuff. This is a family. We talk about that all the time. And the number one thing is that we were hungry and humble. That was it. That was our mantra all season.”
In addition to East Providence High School, East Providence is home to private high schools St. Mary Academy and Providence Country Day. It also hosts numerous youth and club programs, including AYSO, Bayside United, East Bay United Futbol Club, and the newly-founded East Providence Youth Soccer Association.
The EPYSA was founded in 2016, and — according to Bob DaSilva, the club’s president — in the spring of 2018, the club fielded 24 teams with 311 players on travel teams, in divisions from U8 to U18, with 200 additional children participating recreational and youth academies.
“Our hope is that by focusing on teaching the fundamentals that we may impart true soccer skills and knowledge on our young players,” DaSilva said, “so that they may grow as soccer players and hopefully impact the success of the middle school and high school programs here in East Providence.”
Winning always is the goal for competitive players like those in East Providence, but the development of players and people that resonates most with those involved.
“I love watching the players grow and develop,” AYSO United director of coaching Karl Hanrahan said. “The best part for me is being part of the change in U.S. culture toward soccer and developing players versus winning at all costs. The U.S. men’s national team is not looking for great teams; they are looking for great players. The player should always come first.”
Former East Providence resident and current Providence Country Day girls soccer assistant coach Ada Glazzard relished her time growing up playing soccer in the community, starting with joining AYSO. Glazzard played her college soccer at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., but she recalls her formative years — including her time in East Providence and her successful spell at The Wheeler School in Providence — fondly.
“I have played on teams throughout my soccer career in East Providence, and everywhere I have played, it has been a diverse group of people,” she said. “I played in an adult pickup league after college as well, and the competition and diversity was something that I always noticed. Also, not to mention the love of the game in this town. It is the place where you can drive by several fields and will always see someone practicing or playing a pickup game.”
The future is bright because the community continues to invest in the game. Bayside FC Stadium — a modern turf ground constructed in conjunction with the City of East Providence and East Providence High School — serves as the beacon. Bayside FC – which has developed professionals such as Isaac Angking (Providence, R.I./New England Revolution), Geoff Cameron (Attleboro, Mass./Stoke City) and Michael Parkhurst (Cranston, R.I.), among others – trains and plays all home games at the new field.
The EPYSA also is working to bring a soccer-specific complex to East Providence to help with the lack of fields. In the meantime, those involved in the club are helping to make the existing fields the best they can be.
It’s volunteering like that that will make soccer in East Providence continue to grow and more on-field success to occur.
“We have been fortunate to have many new parents join us as team managers, coaches and board members,” DaSilva said. “The East Providence soccer community has never been (as) strong. As we enter our third year, we expect that our efforts will begin to see results in our school soccer program as early as this coming season as many of our soccer players will be entering middle school and high school this year.”
At a Glance
Location: East Providence is located in the northeast section of the state, bordering Massachusetts. It’s about 54 miles southwest of Boston.
Population: As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of East Providence was 47,037, making it the fifth largest city in Rhode Island.
History: Incorporated in 1862, East Providence is home to numerous sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Crescent Park Looff Carousel and Shelter Building, a hand-carved carousel built by Charles Looff in 1895. It remains in the same location even though the park closed in the 1970s and condominiums were built around it.
Famous residents: A couple notable television hosts have spent time in East Providence. Meredith Vieira — notable host of shows such as “The View” and “Today” — grew up in East Providence, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck — who was a host on “The View” years later — attended St. Mary Academy-Bay View. In the sports world, former MLB second baseman and manager Davey Lopes and former NFL safety Jamie Silva were born in East Providence, while former NHL player and coach Ron Wilson attended East Providence High School.