FARMINGTON — Art Potter retired from coaching soccer and track at Mt. Abram High School in Salem in 1999, but he's not been forgotten.
Former students and coaches have rallied to name the soccer field at the school after him.
A dedication of Potters Park will take place between soccer games on Saturday, Sept. 22, at the school field sometime between 5:30 and 7 p.m., said Rodney Spiller, one of his former soccer players who now uses in his own classroom things he was taught by Potter.
It was always an idea to name the field for Potter, Spiller said recently. He picked up "the ball" from Shane Morgan and Derek Allen, who first pursued the idea of acknowledging the man who coached for 26 years at Mt. Abram. The man Spiller calls "the godfather of the school's soccer program."
This time, technology helped. Spiller put it on Facebook, and "it mushroomed," he said. A signed petition and comments from team players, students and other coaches brought before the School Board swayed the decision.
The board was first hesitant and asked "why him" when there are and have been other good coaches at the school, Spiller said.
The "why him" became evident as Spiller talked about being a troubled teen with few role models.
"Mr. Potter is not just a coach; he took the time to listen and not judge. He formed me in to a good young man," Spiller said. "It wasn't just the players. He helped a lot of kids."
After leaving Mt. Abram, Spiller did a stint in the military.
"What coach taught me stuck. He nurtured trust and respect. It kept me alive in different situations," he said.
Now a teacher in RSU 9, Spiller uses the skills learned from Potter to teach other students. Skills like dedication, commitment, teamwork, and good listening and problem solving skills, he said.
Potter sat quietly listening to the comments. The humble man who wouldn't allow a retirement party because he didn't want to be the center of attention.
This time, he wants to thank everyone and hopes to shake the hands of his former students.
"No thanks are needed. It's our thank-you for what you did for us," Spiller said.
Potter, 67, and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Farmington from Massachusetts in 1973 so he could take a position teaching physical education and health classes at Mt. Abram. After 30 years of teaching, 26 at Mt. Abram, he now works as a local house painter.
He began coaching track and football at Mt. Abram.
"It was hard. I went before the School Board with tears in my eyes," he said of the time when he knew the football program at Mt. Abram was over. Football gear was expensive, and he didn't have enough players committed.
In 1979, he started the soccer program.
"For the first couple years, the players had a football mentality. They'd go like going for the football. ... They'd go right through a player. I told the ref they hadn't got the concept yet," he said.
He also started the tennis program and coached spring and winter track. The most students in tennis were from Stratton. They'd arrive in Farmington for indoor practices at 5:30 a.m., he said.
Potter also went in early to open a weight-lifting room for students. His philosophy was "for everyone to find something they like and enjoy doing for the rest of their lives whether it's badminton, golf or cross-country skiing.
Potter's personal faith spilled over on to his athletes.
"I'd try to find one thing I liked about them and build on it," he said.
As a coach you really get to know students and their families more. There's a closeness, he said while remembering team trips and award banquets.
"He didn't judge, but he never gave up on you," Spiller said. "It was about what coach wanted, and when he said 'this is what I need, I trust you,' that person did not want to screw up."