Everyday Heroes: The Reverend Larry Potts
CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - On any given Saturday in February, squeaky soles and the roar of a crowd fill Might Rivers Regional Worship Center in Cairo.
Little girls rally the crowd with pom poms, but arguably the biggest cheerleader is on the sidelines. The Reverend Larry Potts, or "Rev" as he's called is 84 years young and wouldn't miss an Upward Basketball game.
“I’ve been young a long time," said Potts.
On Sundays you'll hear the Reverend Potts preaching the gospel from the pulpit at Might Rivers Church, but on Saturdays he can be found in the church gym, sharing the blessings of basketball.
“It brings people together like nothing else," said Rev. Potts. "We’re 500-600 people here today, mingling. We are friends, congenial, loving, and you know – it’s healing. It just stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country today. Upward unifies.”
The reverend started Upward Basketball in Cairo 20 years ago. Through the years it has grown and seen the Cairo Community through some tough times.
“When the two housing projects closed we thought we would really drop off," said Rev. Potts. "We had about 188 last year. We have 195 this year. So, God surprised.”
The kids on the court aren't just from Cairo. The reverend says they come from all over. Twenty teams of basketball players and six cheerleading squads ages kindergarten through eighth grade are comprised of children from 40 different churches in the tri-state area.
“We have some from Kentucky, a good group from Charleston, then up from Pulaski County, up through Union County," said Rev. Potts. "They all come here to play."
In the 20 years since the first Upward tip-offs at Mighty Rivers, the Reverend says he’s seen a whole generation of kids come through.
“Our kids who started here in the first grade are now 26 years old, and they have kids," said Rev. Potts.
Some of those kids are now coaching Upward Basketball. The Reverend Potts says they got hooked on the positivity of the program way back when.
“Basketball is the bait," said Rev. Potts. "We're going fishing for people and you have got to have bait. Nothing does it like basketball. It’s like God reaches down with one hand and we reach up with another and there’s a basketball in between. Nothing else can do it.”
At every halftime, the teams learn a lesson about life through scripture.
According to Cairo Police Commissioner Danny Brown, those lessons on the court have made a difference in Cairo.
“To me, it’s like an olive branch," said Brown. "On Saturdays in February there is somewhere you can go and enjoy - something to look forward to. Children around here have nothing to look forward to. We don’t have anything. I’m a commissioner and I’ll admit it. There isn’t anything for children to do. Without this I wonder where we would be.
“We think it’s a race for the kids and whoever gets their first wins," said Rev. Potts. "We’re trying to get there first.”
It's not just the kids who are learning to choose the path of righteousness in life.
“Not only are the youth learning, but the parents have to bring their children and so the parents learn this is a better way. You come here, and this is peace," said Brown.
“It makes an impression, and it’s so positive. You know. You can’t be hateful when you’re enjoying a sport," said Rev. Potts. "When you’ve got teammates, you can’t be divisive. It’s just totally positive. It’s given Cairo a positive face.”
It's given the Reverend Potts a reason to smile. Upward has allowed him to enjoy his other passion in life.
“If I could live again and I couldn’t be a pastor I would be a coach," said Rev. Potts. “It’s been fun, but it’s God's work. He just lets us in on it.”
Early in the month of February, the Cairo Police Department presented Rev. Potts with a commendation for his 20 years of service with Upward Basketball in Cairo.
If you know someone who should be recognized as an Everyday Hero, click here to make your nomination.
We’ll profile an Everyday Hero each month on Heartland News.
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