Debbie Higgins is the eighth women’s basketball player to be inducted into the Keene State Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame. Quiet by nature, Higgins, who played four seasons for the Owls (1972-76) and was one of the building blocks of a fledging program, was taken aback at the honor. “I was very surprised when I found out,” she said. “You don’t expect something like that to happen.”
There was no better shooter on the Keene State team during her tenure. Following her freshman year, Higgins, who stood just five feet four inches, averaged 11 points per game as a sophomore, 22 as a junior, and 15.5 in her final season. Noted for her long-range shooting skills, Higgins finished her career with 759 points and surely would have been the first Owl to reach the 1,000-point milestone had the team played more games and a three-point line been in place. Her 22-point junior average stands as a Keene State record.
Originally from Bellows Falls, Vt., Higgins got her first basketball at the age of eight and spent countless hours in the driveway perfecting her shot. “We had a hoop over a rutted dirt driveway, and I drove my parents nuts with my dribbling,” she said.
Higgins’s practice paid off. “I actually made a long shot in gym class one day and surprised everyone, including the teacher, who happened to be the girls’ basketball coach,” Higgins said. She went on to lead the Bellow Falls High School team to a state championship as a senior, the first year Vermont had a state tournament. Higgins’s desire to stay near home, coupled with the direction provided by her coach, Anne Rodia, who refereed Owls games, brought Higgins to Keene State.
Higgins joined a Keene State team that was in the early stages of establishing itself in the sport. The team played about a dozen games with a schedule that included Division I programs like UNH, UMass, Northeastern, and even UConn. “UConn had a player who was six-four, and we’d never played against a woman that tall,” Higgins said.
While Higgins was quick to heap praise on her teammates, they knew they were playing with a special athlete. Guard Edith Turcotte, who played two seasons with Higgins, said looks can be deceiving. “In many ways, Debbie didn’t look like a basketball player, but put her on the court and it was a different story,” she said. “She had a high basketball IQ. She was a terrific shooter, our silent assassin.”
“Debbie was a magnificent player, said former teammate Karen Pelletier. “I would work the baseline looking for a shot and Debbie could always find me anywhere inside. We called it "thread the needle passes". They were rockets, and I have the thumbs to prove it.”
What set Higgins apart, said Turcotte, was her humility. “She was a team player who made everyone on the court look good,” she said. “It was an honor and a privilege to play with her.”
Graduating with a degree in physical education, Higgins took a different career route and has spent the past 25 years running her own painting and wallpapering business. “Back then, women were teachers, nurses, or secretaries and that’s wasn’t for me,” said Higgins, who liked working with her hands and the independence of working alone.
Higgins says she still plays basketball, joining former Owls like Bette Misiaszek and Karen Crowley at the local junior high gym. “We still shuffle up and down the court. We call it old lady basketball,” said Higgins. “It's fun to be around people, stay active, and have a laugh,” she said.
Reflecting on her career, Higgins said, “I really enjoyed my teammates and playing for Coach Karen Booth,” she said. “Even though there were no scholarships and no tournaments and we played just 12 or 14 games a season, we all had a lot of fun and I would do it all over again.”