LOS ANGELES, CA./WILMINGTON – Starting this week, both current Sports Editor Jamie Pote and Former Sports Editor/current Sports Reporter Rick Cooke will team up to start a new series called 'Where Are They Now'. We will feature former teams, coaches and athletes, focusing on their lives spent in the respective towns and what has transpired since they graduated.
Here in Wilmington, the first of these features will be Lisa Cutone Bacon from the Wilmington High Class of 1986. Cutone, who was inducted into the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996, went all four years on the tennis court without being defeated in a regular season match. The Town Crier was unable to find out the exact number of career wins, but at the conclusion of her junior year, she was 53-0.
In addition Cutone was also an All-Scholastic Field Hockey player.
She went on to play both sports at Harvard University, worked many years in the television industry and today she lives in California with her four sons.
Lisa's parents, Alberto and Maria, still reside in Wilmington. Alberto, who turned 80 on Easter, was born in Naples, Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1956. Maria, 71, lived in Campania, a southern Italian province and she moved to America later on, to get closer with several members of her mother's family, who already resided in the states.
Alberto and Maria were married in 1965 and soon after had their children, Lisa and Steven. Alberto worked as a cement mason, while raising his children through Wilmington Public Schools.
It was Maria who kick started the family's love for tennis. She was the first one to receive a free tennis lesson and from there, the children got involved in the sport.
"(My brother and I) tried every single thing," recalled Lisa. "A lot of immigrants would come over and do what they are comfortable with, but not my mother. We had ice skating, gymnastics, acrobatics, art lessons, whatever it was, you name it, we did it."
Both Alberto and Maria started playing tennis with Lisa's cousin Vincent Iocco, who also still lives in town and whose daughter Julianna is currently playing soccer at Clarion University. During her time in high school, Lisa also had other cousins involved in high school sports, including Beatrice Cutone and Debbie Iocco, who both played tennis, and Anthony Cutone, an All-Scholastic running back.
"My father would start playing (tennis) with (Vincent) and then my mother and father started playing together at the Woburn Tennis and Racquet Club," said Lisa. "I remember when Steven and I started to really be competitive, she said 'we have enough tennis players in this house, I quit'. (Then later on), my mother and father used to go out almost every day down to the high school and play.
"My father was the one who really taught her the game. He would have a bucket of balls and would have her hit them for an hour and she can play tennis. They really enjoy it. They are still at the Woburn Tennis Club and in leagues and that stuff. My father just loved the sport instantly. He played a lot with Vincent."
Steven, 48, was a talented soccer player, but quickly realized he was better without cleats on. He played both sports at WHS all four years, graduating in 1989. He was recruited to play soccer and ended up playing both at Holy Cross. In 1993, he was named to the Patriot League's Academic Honor Roll.
"He walked onto the tennis team and ended up being the captain of the team during his senior year and he ended up not playing soccer anymore," said Lisa. "He just became really great at tennis."
Today Steven is a doctor of internal medicine, practicing in Biddeford, Maine, along with his wife Jennifer, who is also a doctor, and they have three children, George 15, Olivia, 13 and Alberto, 12. They live in Kennebunkport and every summer the family spends two weeks of vacation at Alberto and Maria's summer home of the past 30 years in the Boothbay Peninsula.
The entire family are tennis activists, playing in a number of tournaments in Maine and throughout New England, all having great success. In 2015, Steven received the USTA New England Maine Volunteer of the Year Award and in addition, Steven and his family were named the Maine Tennis Association's Family of the Year for their incredible work in the sport, mostly hosting a weekly youth tennis night.
Lisa was put on the spot when asked who is the better tennis player between the two?
"He's just better than me," she said as a matter of fact. "I'm more of a top-spin baseline player and he is more of an aggressive, male player. He doesn't serve up a lot of volleys, but he hits winners. We spend a lot of time with Steven and his family, and my parents in Boothbay. The reason why my kids are so good at tennis is because of my brother and father."
MUCH MORE THAN THE STREAK
Lisa Cutone played No. 1 singles for the Wilmington High Girls' Tennis team all four years of her high school career and not once during a Merrimack Valley Conference match, did she lose. She was named the MVC Player of the Year all four years, was a three-year All-Scholastic selection and also served as the team's captain for three seasons.
"She was unbelievable because she was five-foot nothing and was probably one hundred pounds," said her head coach at the time, Peter Brumis, who retired in 2004 after 35 years as a teacher in the WPS. "She would play these matches and people would look at this little girl and then she would wipe them right out. I know she never lost a match and pretty sure she never lost a set throughout her four years of high school tennis. She was so gutsy. She was always such a nice person and all, but she was going to win."
As a freshman, Cutone helped lead the Wildcats to the state tournament, losing a first round match to Westwood, 3-2. The Wildcats struggled for team victories after that including a 7-11 record in 1985. While the team wins were tough, she was always focused on her match and said that Brumis played a major role in that.
"Every single match Mr. Brumis would tell me the same thing — 'Take No Prisoners'. I remember after one time he said it to me, I asked him 'What do you mean by that?' and he would say 'don't take any prisoners, so when you got them (on the ropes, put them away)'. He wanted me to have the killer instinct throughout the entire match and he didn't want me to start feeling bad (in the middle of a match) just because I was beating someone," she said.
Brumis said that prior to Cutone, he had several other strong players including Karen Taylor, but knew the first time that she took the court as a tiny ninth grader that she had what it took to be out there and be the best in the league every time she stepped foot on a court.
"(I would tell her 'take no prisoners') because she was just so good. She had her own (off-season) coach at the Woburn Tennis Club so I thought maybe she would quit playing high school tennis," said Brumis. "I just wanted to keep giving her something to work towards so if a new opponent came around, I would say 'no prisoners, let's see if you can go out and beat her'."
Besides going unbeaten in a Wildcats' uniform, Cutone was also one of the top four players in the entire state in each of the four seasons.
"(Her game and her strengths) changed," said Brumis. "The thing with tennis is when you learn something new — like if you're hitting with top spin, then all of a sudden somebody teaches you at certain times that you have to learn to hit it down the line, on your backhand or underspin or something, your game will have peaks and valleys and you get better and better each year. But nobody could come near her. She was just so gutsy and she was fearless."
As a junior, Cutone was the No. 4 seed in the tournament and beat Kristin Prunier, 6-1 and 6-2 in the first round, before easily knocking off the No. 5 seed Mary Tracken in straight sets as well, 6-1 and 6-0. That put her in the semi-finals where she was defeated by Concord-Carlisle's Justine Higgins in three sets.
"I wish I could have done better (in the individual tournaments)," Cutone said. "Every year I made it and there were usually over one hundred kids who would participate. All four years I made it to the semi-finals and lost. That's still a disappointment whenever I think about that."
But not for a single moment did she ever have a disappointing moment as a member of the team.
"Being a part of that team with him was just such a great social gathering every time and we all had so much fun. We loved being an athlete and we just all had the joy of playing the sport. It didn't seem like there were these huge stakes," she said.
In the early 90s, Brumis resigned and the program went through a number of coaches before Patti Cushing, Kevin Welch and current coach Matt Hackett took the reigns on a more consistent basis. Hackett has enjoyed the most success, including a record of 34-19 over the last three years. Those teams were led by No. 1 singles player Emily Hill, who finished with 37 wins, believed to be the second most in program history, trailing Cutone. Hill went on to Johnson and Wales and had a tremendous rookie year this past fall and was also named the Town Crier's Female Athlete of the Year in December.
Back in the spring of Hill's junior year, Cutone was in town visiting her family, and ended up playing a fun match against Hill.
IT WAS ALL HIS FAULT
While the wins always piled up throught Cutone's high school career, so did the funny stories.
"There was a controversy one time and I forget against which team," said Brumis. "A reporter from the Boston Globe came out to interview her (during the 1985 season when she was 40-0 at the time) and he asked a question like 'What's the most you ever beat somebody?' and her response was 'all I'm trying to do is make sure (my opponent) doesn't get any points. I'm not going to give away points'.
"It's called a golden match when your opponent doesn't get one point in two sets, so he kind of pushed her to say something against this certain player (that she was about to face). So I ended up getting a call from the coach from that school and he was really irate. I told him that it was the reporter's fault for pushing her into answering his question. After the phone call, I knew I had to tell Lisa about it. I wasn't sure if she would be upset and she said 'that wasn't my fault'. It didn't bother her at all."
Cutone brought up another match, coming against Andover, a team that was undefeated almost every year.
"I don't remember all of the details, but (Andover) thought their top singles player was going to beat me. The mother of the girl who I played would sit in her car and every time her daughter got a point, she would put her hand out the window and slam it onto the roof of her car," said Cutone with a big laugh. "Then she would try to say that I was cheating, so they would always have to get a line judge, which is fine, it didn't bother me. The girl never came close to beating me — but they would pull a bunch of theatrics."
Brumis was asked about that and after chuckling, he said it went much further than the taps on the hood of the car.
"Lisa was the best player in the league and this girl from Andover was the second best player in the league. Lisa had this small voice and every time she hit the ball she would say 'ow', so the girl ended up doing it back, but mocking Lisa. So between sets you are able to talk to your players and I said to Lisa, 'don't let this bother you' and then she replied, 'I'm going to beat her worse than I originally planned," said Brumis with a big laugh.
"Usually when Lisa played someone, they became friends. When Lisa played a match, she would first trounce (her opponent) and then they became friends in good humor. Lisa was just such a nice person. Her whole family are just such nice people. Her mom, dad and her brother Steven, just a great family and such hard working people."
Cutone said she never would have gone as far as she did in the athletic world had it not been for her coaches, including Brumis.
"Mr. Brumis was an awesome coach," she said. "He was such a good coach and he was just so good to me. I remember my freshman year, we were riding on the bus and he said to me 'you're going to be our No. 1 singles player' and I said 'OK'. I played all of the matches, I won all of them and then (a year later as a sophomore) he also said 'you're going to be the captain of the team'. That seemed a little strange because I was so young and at that time, I never really thought anything about it.
"I also remember whenever we would be on the bus and he would read to us stories that had been written about our team in the newspapers on the way to a match. We would all sit there, gather around and listen to him. On the weekends, my entire family would be on the (high school) courts playing and Mr. Brumis would come around and play some doubles matches with us. He was just so much fun and he did so much for us. He would have ping-pong games and do other fun stuff all of the time."
THE BEST OF TIMES
If you ask Cutone about team and personal accomplishments during her high school and even collegiate career, it's pretty foggy, but if you ask her about her friends and the memories they shared together from those teams, especially field hockey, and she certainly recalls so many of them.
"We did so well but I don't even remember all of the details," she said. "Once in a while Marion Cushing will post some article or some pictures (on Facebook) and it's like 'we were the MVC Champions, but then we lost here' and I don't remember those details. I just remember playing and having so much fun. The bond — even practices — I loved. (I remember) Renee Allaby, Nancy Newark, Marion and so many of them. We just had so much fun playing together and we were all just super competitive."
In 1984, Cutone's junior year, the team finished in a second place tie in the MVC Division 2 along with Lawrence. The 'Cats had a regular season record of 14-3-1 before beating Lynnfield, 1-0, in the first round of the tournament. In that exciting win, Cutone scored the game winner, tipping home a shot taken by Aurielle Smith at the 15:35 mark. From there, Wilmington beat Marblehead 1-0 on a goal by Kristen Butt before losing in the Division 2 North Sectional Finals to Rockport, 1-0.
That team finished the season scoring a program record 63 goals, while goalie Kristen Pepe broke a program record with shut outs in a season. Kathy Robinson was named the league's MVP, Butt and Janet Crowley were named to the All-Conference team and Cutone was named a league all-star.
The following year, the Wildcats finished 15-1-2 and were the MVC Champions. Cutone was the co-captain along with Smith. Cutone and Cushing were a dynamite offensive duo and were both named All-Conference selections. Cutone finished the season with 18 goals and 13 assists for 31 points.
She along with Robinson, share the second most points in a single season in program history. They had the top spot for over 30-years under Jill Miele broke that, as well as Jennifer DelNinno's record for most career points back in the 2017 season.
Cutone played three years of varsity field hockey, helped the team make two trips to the state tournament, win a league title, while being named to both the All-Conference and an All-Scholastic during her senior season.
“Lisa came to field hockey with many carry-over skills from her competitive tennis experiences,” said then head coach Jan Cassidy-Wood. “Her arm strength, agile foot work, eye-hand coordination and aggressiveness translated nicely to field hockey. The intelligence, friendliness, skill and leadership she demonstrated daily at practice and especially game day was rewarded by her selection as team co-captain with Aurelie Smith. The team leadership and fellow seniors orchestrated many events throughout the season to enhance team spirit and camaraderie. Many of the 'after hours' capers and shenanigans were kept 'secret' for the coaches. Some were revealed and brought subsequent consequences.”
While the girls had their share of fun, Cutone certainly also had a lot of talent and was a lethal with the ball in front of the cage.
"Lisa became a dominant scorer from her inner position," said Cassidy-Wood, one of the all-time greatest field hockey coaches in the state. "She used her stick work, strength, aggression and good feeds from teammates to overtake opponents and score. Some of those feeds came from her sidekick and best friend forever, winger Marion Cushing. They were a dynamic duo on and off the field.
"Lisa was surrounded by many other talented and experienced seniors in 1985. At the League All-Star selection meeting, many fellow coaches commented that half the team would be Wilmington players if every team need not be represented."
THE CRIMSON TIDE
During her senior year at WHS, Lisa was exceptional at the two sports but also excelled academically. She graduated as the No. 6 student in her class, was the winner of the National Association of Secondary School Principal's award, a national award given to just one hundred students annually. She was also given the Larry Cushing Memorial Award.
Before graduation day came, she went through the college selection/recruiting process. She recalled a very funny story.
"(The Harvard Field Hockey Coach) Nina Lamborgini came to my house to chat with me and to meet my parents as part of the recruiting process. She said it was the first time she had ever gone on a recruiting trip to someone's house. She came over and when she introduced herself, my father said 'Lamborgini, you must be Italian'? and she said 'yes I am'. So he said 'well you come to my house you have to drink wine,' recalled Cutone, while noting that her family had a side hobby of making their own wine. "And she said 'oh no, no, no, I'm not sure I could do that. This an official visit and I don't want the school to be upset with me'. And he said 'please sit down, you are having a glass of wine'.
"She sat in the living room and he made her have a glass of wine."
Prior to committing to Harvard, Lisa did tour Virginia Tech as one of the players she lost to in the state individual tournament, Maria Lochiatto, was going there and told the coach about Cutone. She elected not to attend VT, but Lochiatto had a terrific career, including at one time being ranked No. 26 in the entire country. Cutone elected to attend Harvard, taking on that incredible workload and playing two sports.
"Playing at Harvard was much of the same as in high school," she explained. "It was instant family, an instant team and I was fortunate enough to once again play with girls who had your back. It was so exciting. We were a Division 1 school and we were competitive right away (in field hockey)."
Cutone played four years of field hockey and three years of tennis while at Harvard. In field hockey, she was named a three-time "Boston 4 All-Star", was a two-time All-Ivy League Selection and was a Ivy League Player of the Week once. She also was a key member of the Crimson Women's Tennis team.
"I played tennis from my freshmen through junior years," she said. "I wanted to do an internship with WCVB (Channel 5) and I wouldn't have been able to do it with tennis. Plus I played field hockey there all four years and the day that field hockey ended, was the day tennis would start up because it was more of a year-round sport at Harvard."
A LIFE IN POLITICS
Cutone graduated Cum Laude from Harvard in 1990 with a degree in Government. She immediately found work in the political field, working under Joe Day — a well known reporter, who worked on a lot on Channel-2 — down at Cummings Park Office in Woburn. She spent a year there getting her feet wet, before taking a giant leap, moving to Atlanta, Georgia where she was employed by CNN from 1991 to 1997. She was hired as a Production Assistant for the Political Unit before spending time as an Associate and Field Producer. She also served as a field reporter during the '92 Presidential Election.
"I worked on 'Inside Politics' and in the political unit," she said. "That's exactly why I went down there to do just that. It was the greatest experience that I ever had. I got to travel around the country, I got to go to the convention and I pitched a bunch of stories. They made me a political reporter for a kids' show that we had called 'CNN Newsroom' that they would play in classrooms and I was the reporter for that."
Brumis said that he fondly remembers that show which was drawn to the younger audience.
"They would broadcast the show at like two o'clock in the morning and you could tape it and use it when you wanted," he said. "She did a bunch of shows for them as a broadcaster and it was funny to watch her because she was trying not to have a Boston accent. It was hilarious when she used or tried not to use her 'R's' and was trying not to sound like she had the accent. I would show my kids in class her shows and I would say 'the kid who grew up in Wilmington and was sitting in your seat ten years ago is now working for CNN'."
Cutone won an Emmy Award as part of the station's Instant Coverage of Breaking News: Olympic Park Bombing. She was the tape producer during the TWA 800 crash, the Gulf War Anniversary and the Oklahoma City Bombings. She also produced hundreds of political and business news shows, including 'Moneyline' with Lou Dobbs, as well as 'Inside Politics'.
Lisa got married to James Bacon, a producer himself with CNN. His father, also James, was a well-known and long-time syndicated entertainment columnist in Los Angeles and his wife, Doris, also was a journalist for the Associated Press. Lisa and her husband had their first child in 1996 and it was soon after that when she decided that she needed a career change.
"I realized that I no longer wanted to be on the air," she said. "CNN sent me to get voice lessons and they were doing all of these things into making me a reporter and one day I decided that I didn't want to do it anymore. Every person (at the time was) dying to be a reporter. I just said that I didn't want to deal or worry about what I sound like, what I look like. I just wanted to get the story, so that's why I changed to become a producer.
"I think I ended up making a good decision because reporters end up having to move all around, they have to keep moving up and doing better and then move down as you get older. Being a producer, your age and your looks don't matter as much."
Lisa and James packed up and moved to LA, and she still resides there in Bramata Hills. She worked a number of producer jobs until she struck gold as the Executive Producer for 'E! Fashion Police'. She managed every aspect of the comedy show with the late Joan Rivers, of the 'E' Entertainment Network.
"That was my claim to fame," she said with a laugh. "That was the biggest show that I ever did. We took a small show and turned it into a pop culture phenomenon. It was the No. 1 show on 'E' every year. That was a great experience."
She held that position from 2004 to this past November, a span of almost 16 years.
For the past six months, she was been an Editorial Producer for the CBS Show 'This Morning' with Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil.
THE FOUR ACES
Lisa and her husband are divorced but they are both proud parents of four boys, James, 23, Matthew 20 and identical twins, William and Jonathan, who are juniors in high school. All four of them have played sports their entire lives, including tennis. Over the years, the family has spent a lot of time together playing recreational and competitive tennis, as well as doing other outdoor activities such as hiking and golf.
Outside of sports, James has been all over the news himself as he was hired to work in the White House, as the PPO (Presidential Personnel Office) Director of Operations, the top assistant for John McEntee.
James was featured for this in a number of magazines and websites as well as being a target of a late night monologue joke with James Colbert during his February 28th show.
James first got into politics as a high school senior as an intern for US State Rep (D) Brad Sherman. Then as a college senior at George Washington University, James served as an intern during the Donald Trump campaign. James worked with McEntee in the earliest of days and with the advance team and later did operations on the Trump Transition. James was so impressive as an intern, he was immediately offered a position, serving in Direction of Transportation, working in policy stop with Jeff Sessions, before going to the Development of Housing and Urban Development as a White House Liaison with Secretary Ben Carson.
Son No. 2, Matthew, is a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University. He was recruited to play baseball there and played on the fall team before injuring himself. Back in high school, he had a 4.0 GPA and served as a two-year captain of the baseball team at Granada Hills Charter High School.
The twins focus more on tennis and have been on their varsity high school team since their freshman year and both are competitive basketball and soccer players as well.
COMPETITIVE MOTOR HASN'T STOPPED
While Lisa has watched her four sons play a lot of competitive sports over the years, she has continued to play tennis and field hockey. She has been a longtime member of the Moorpack Field Hockey Federation League, lining up with the top local high school and collegiate players. She still plays a lot of tennis, mostly recreational as her days of playing in leagues ended a while ago, and she also offers lessons. Last year she took up a new hobby.
"I'm 51 now, so last year when I turned 50, I did my first half marathon," she said. "My boys kept pushing me to do it and I said 'OK, I will'. My goal was to finish at 2:15 and I did it at 2:03, so that was fun. I'm glad they were the ones who pushed me into it."
Now 34 years removed from the halls of (the old) Wilmington High, living in Atlanta and now LA, having four children and an extremely impressive professional career, Cutone was asked about where it all started — playing tennis and field hockey in a suburban town outside of Boston.
"Wilmington is just the most perfect place to grow up. We might be this little town with a small population, but to have the leadership of coaches like Miss Cassidy, Mrs. (Jan) Urquhart and Mr. Brumis, but also Mr. (Frank) Kelley is what made my experience so wonderful.
"We were such a tight-knit group (of classmates). We would be in the middle of a tennis match and all of the guys like Chris Anthanasia, Anthony Cutone, John Desforge, Peter Campbell, would come over as they were doing track and watch our tennis match — even if it was for just fifteen minutes. When we were playing field hockey, Miss Cassidy would have us go over and watch the football guys and cheer them on. We had an amazing camaraderie coming from a small high school and I feel like everyone was so supportive of everyone else. (Football Coach) Mr. (Ed) Harrison would bring the whole football team in their cleats and pads and they would come over to watch our field hockey games and they would cheer for us from the stands.
"Sports to me, just teaches you all of the important life-lessons. If you can handle the pressure of playing sports, you'll be able to handle the pressure of anything in life because it teaches you to believe in yourself, to be a good teammate and to see if you have good leadership qualities within that team. These are the best things that you can learn playing a game before the stakes are so high. That's why all of my kids have played sports and loved them and thrived in them."
Although she is 3,000 miles away from WHS, the days of smacking the ball around the field, or sending a backhand over the net, are not forgotten. Cutone has savored so many memories from the days as a Wildcat, the days of the Hacky Sack and Parachute Pants.
"I feel like when we played sports (in high school), there was just the joy of playing the sport," she said. "You played for the sport and it was kind of mindless and exciting. Now everyone is training to try to get a scholarship, or move up, or get on this Club Team or whatever, and it almost seems like they are treating (amateur) sports into a business.
"I'm just so glad that I played sports in the day where it was fun, it was about the competition and we just enjoyed it all.
Playing for Miss Cassidy and Mrs. Urquhart — I could not have asked for better role models. Thanks to Facebook, I can keep in touch with them and some of my friends and teammates. I don't think that I could have had a better field hockey experience than I did at Wilmington (High School)."