MISSOULA — Scott Potter sees sports a little differently than most of us.
We see heroes and goats, wins and losses, celebrations and tears. Potter likes all that stuff too, but he also sees a door of opportunity that transcends the games we watch and play.
Tennis is his trade. A lot of his 50-hour work weeks are spent on the court teaching lessons to the fortunate with their $200 rackets and $100 shoes at the Peak Racquet Club.
It's a good life, complete with a wonderful wife and two healthy children. Yet something was missing for the Missoula man right around the time he turned 40.
So he came up with an idea. That's how it started.
Around the same time Scott's tennis club was being built, the Watson Children's Shelter was constructed just a stone's throw away. One day he decided to pay a visit to the shelter with an idea for a charity event.
Seven years later, Potter's idea, the Watson Children's Shelter Pro-Am tennis fundraiser, has netted over $371,000 for the shelter. Scott is quick to spread the credit all around to his fellow committee members and all the volunteers, but it's important to know where the idea started.
Potter is not Mahatma Gandhi or Billy Graham, but by golly he's a pretty wonderful example of the impact one sportsman can have with just an idea. The United States Tennis Association certainly thinks so because three weeks ago in Denver they presented him with their Lessons for Life (charity event of the year) award for the six-state Intermountain Section.
Scott is already thinking about next year's fundraiser and it's not until October. He spends roughly 300 hours a year working on the event, fueled by images in his head.
"There was one specific time, I think one of my kids was 3 years old and one was 1 at the time, when I heard a story about a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old that were in the (Watson Children's) shelter because mom and dad were drug addicts and were incarcerated," he shared. "It's just the fact you have two kids that don't have a chance. It's stories like that you remember."
So good is the Peak Pro-Am that top-level tennis playing pros willingly come year after year to help. In fact they ask ahead of time if they can help. You may recognize some of the names from their success in majors — guys like Robby Ginepri and Luke Jensen.
What it boils down to is Potter's passion to do the right thing. It's so easy to ignore that inner voice these days with cell phones and iPads, cable television and the internet.
Potter says he is the way he is because of his parents back in New Zealand. Dad always had that roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic and mom was the emotional anchor. They're in a nursing home now but Scott still takes time to talk with them on a weekly basis.
Here's hoping it's not just Potter's New Zealand roots making this happen. Here's hoping there's a few more like Scott here in western Montana, ready to bust out their terrific ideas for the benefit of others.
"I'm trying to raise kids with my wife and teach them the lessons of life and try to give them a good base," he explains. "What we do here with the Pro-Am, what better lesson than giving kids a chance that don't have the chances our kids have."
"That's the type of thing I'm trying to teach my kids and everybody at the tennis club. You don't realize how lucky you are."
That goes for a lot of us, my friend.