(By Marc Allard – Norwich Bulletin – 2004)
Norwich — Walk through the gates at Dodd Stadium and look straight ahead. You will see this young, vibrant, almost angelic fact looking down at you from a back-lit board thanking those who donated time and money in honor of a young person the community – and his family – refuses to let go.
The smile and fact belong to Chris Potvin, who died at 15 because of a car accident in 1986 near St. Bernard High School Chris succumbed to his injuries several months later in the hospital.
“I loved the little guy” said Wayne Potvin, Chris’ father. “A little blond-haired kid who never talked back, always wanted to help. I’ve found out that everyone in the community loved him just as much as I did.”
When such a tragic event happens, however, sometimes something good arises and that is this case, is exactly what happened. Wayne channeled his grief into doing something positive, keeping his son’s name alive and using it to give others a chance that his son never had.
The Chris Potvin baseball tournament actually began on a very small level when Ron Meadows started it with just four teams – Mystic, Groton, New London and Waterford Babe Ruth. Meadows ran that tournament for eight years before Wayne became involved and decided to take over the management of it because he saw the potential to do more.
This year’s tournament concluded late last week with 31 teams involved from all over the state. There are now three divisions – 19-under, 15-under and 13-under – and it’s all run by Wayne and his right-hand man, Harold Fengar.
“Wayne puts so much time into this,” Fengar said. “He loves the game and so do I, and no one runs a tournament like Wayne.”
“It can drive you crazy with all the little, petty problems like field and scheduling, “Wayne said. “ But that’s when I stop and think about Chris and it makes it all worth it.”
The two-week tournament itself it not the driving force behind what will happen today. Potvin has kept the entry fee cost down of $200 entry fee cost down of $200 per team and that money is usually sucked up by the tournament expenses such as umpires ad lights. The tournament is there to keep Chris’ name and the sport he loved so much tied together.
“We used to go out together every Saturday to the Little League games and then over to Legion” Wayne said of his son “I used to hit him balls in the dark. I think he was the only one who loved sports as much as me. He was my best friend and companion.”
The money comes from a new idea hatched by Potvin and Fengas, a direct mail campaign featuring a little card with pictures of the previous year’s scholarship recipients on it and a request to donate to the scholarship fund.
“The first year we sent out 460 and 404 came back and we raised $14,000,” Potvin said. It went up to $17,000 the past two years and this year, for our 20th annual tournament, we raised $20,000-plus.”
And all of that money will be handed out tonight, plus an extra thousand because the Potvins couldn’t decide between two worthy candidates and the Defenders, especially on-field announcer Johnny Gill, will be looking on.
“When I got here three seasons ago, I met Wayne and I took a liking and emotional attachment to what he was doing, so I took it over here,”said Gill, who serves as the corporate sales director for the Defenders.
“I’ve made the field available for four days” Gill said. “We give them the lights and the kids have the time of their lives up here.”
For Wayne, it has been a salve on a wound that has will never truly heal.
“If the good Lord bad to take Chris, then it’s good to see something good come of it,” Potvin said “It has helped a lot of kids and I’m proud to do it in Chris’ name. I’ll be doing it until they put me in a casket and, who knows, maybe some day we can give out 50 scholarships.”