By John Goralski
Bloomfield raced to a 26-17 lead in the first quarter of the 1971 season opener, so Blue Knight coach Ed Nardi gave Ernie Blue ‘the signal’ at the break between quarters. Blue had already scored nine of Southington’s 17 points against the fast-breaking Bloomfield squad, but the first year Southington coach gave his senior captain the go ahead.
Bloomfield never knew what hit them.
Blue converted eight of his first nine shots from the three point line like a long range sniper. He scored 15 baskets in 25 attempts like a cowboy in a gunfight. Blue missed the target just three times in his 18 free throw attempts, but even he was surprised when officials whistled a stop in the action midway through the third period to signal his record-setting day.
Six years earlier, Greg O’Connell set a single game scoring record for his 36 point effort. As the 1960s came to a close, Tom Leahy matched that varsity effort. But in the first game of his senior season, Blue had shattered the former measure with a 45-point barrage in Southington’s opening day loss.
“What a shooter he was,” said Art Secondo, a former sports writer at The Southington News and Southington Observer. Three decades later, Secondo can still recall Blue’s scoring barrage. “He was an intense player, and we weren’t used to anybody like that. Ed Nardi was an outside shooter when he played. We had a few other scorers, but nobody like Ernie Blue. He just popped up in Southington and started shooting.”
Some say that Ernie Blue is the reason why Southington is called the Blue Knights.
“He could score from just about anywhere,” Nardi said about his former all-state scorer. “He had extraordinary moves inside. He had a good outside shot, and he was very hard to handle. After that first game he saw a lot special defenses to contain him, but he was such a prolific scorer. We didn’t have a very good record that year, but he was outstanding.”
Blue was never left unguarded for the rest of the season, but that didn’t seem to slow Southington’s top gun. He averaged 22.6 points per game as a senior. He became the second Southington scorer to eclipse the 1,000 points barrier against Rockville with five games remaining. He pushed past Michanczyk as the program’s top scorer and finished his career with 1,155 points. Blue remains the only Blue Knight to score more than 1,100 points.
“He was very outstanding. If you look at that time, he really stood out,” said Nardi. “I don’t know exactly how many 1,000 point scorers we’ve had in Southington, but we didn’t have many. It was my first year and we didn’t have a very good season, so a lot of things sort of fell on his shoulders. He handled it well, and he was very tough to contain.”
Southington had fallen a long way from their heydays of the 1950s by the time that Blue arrived in town as a freshman at Kennedy Junior High School in January, 1969. A local housing boom was already transforming the quiet, blue collar town into a community with one of the largest high schools in the state when Blue arrived at the high school the following year.
It had been 20 years since Ray Michanczyk became Southington’s first 1,000 point scorer during his four-year career in the 1950s, but Blue eclipsed his mark in just three seasons. Since his graduation, Southington has returned to a four-year high school program, but nobody has been able to beat his mark in 30 years.
Blue seemed almost embarrassed at long-standing record. “I feel good about it, but I’ve held it long enough,” he said. “I wish somebody would break it because I love the school and I love the sport. Okay. I held it this long. Now somebody else can take it, and I wish that I can be there to see it. I want to be there, and I want to shake their hand.”
It seems almost impossible to believe that Blue had not scored a single point in an organized game by the time he landed at Kennedy Junior High School in the middle of his freshman season. It seems even more unlikely that a 5 foot, 8 inch player could wrestle big men as a sophomore power forward, but the high-jumping Blue scored 180 points in his first year with the Blue Knights.
In the off-season, he grew two inches, gained a few pounds, and worked on his game until dark on the courts at Plantsville Elementary School. All that work paid off in his junior year. Blue exploded with 424 points (22.3 points per game) to lead the conference in scoring, and that year still ranks sixth all-time for Southington scorers.
“In between my sophomore and junior years, I was focused on learning a jump shot,” he said. “I wanted to have a 15-foot jumper that would work like a lay-up. As soon as I got that jump shot, I figured that I could take on anybody. If they were my size, they were in trouble.”
It was no fluke. As a senior, he scored 451 points, and that still ranks fourth on the list of Southington’s single season performances. His 45-point performance in the opener still holds the record for the top single game performance of any Blue Knight, and his 43-point effort against Plainville in mid-February ranks on the all-time list.
Blue credits his coaching for the sudden rise to the top.
“I doubt that anyone else can claim that they had four hall of fame coaches in high school,” he said. “There was Walt Lozoski and Dom D’Angelo in my sophomore and junior years. Then, I was blessed to have Ed Nardi and Dick Lorenzo as coaches in my senior year, and they are all hall of famers. Then, I was blessed to continue on at college with John Salerno and Bob Ruderman—both Southington guys—and they were both New England Basketball Hall of Fame coaches. I think I was pretty good, but I was blessed to have the opportunity to play under those guys in that atmosphere and those circumstances.”
Whatever the reason, Blue was far from finished when he graduated Southington High School. He continued at Mattatuck Community College (now known as Naugatuck Valley Community College) where he managed to score over 400 points in both seasons under Salerno and Ruderman.
Blue scored 428 points in his freshman year and 449 points in his final season at the two-year
By John Goralski