WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) – The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival will honor six different individuals this year, as part of the Festival’s inaugural Sports Hall of Fame class. This class is filled with members that had a lasting impact on local, or national sports history; that hail from the region.
As part of the inaugural class, Russ Potts will headline the Hall of Fame class. Potts is a former Executive Director for the Festival, and Founder of the Festival’s Sports Breakfast back in 1956. A former Winchester Star Sports Editor; Russ was the first Sports Marketing Director in the history of collegiate athletics, for the University of Maryland. He served as the Director of Athletics at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, following his stint with the Terrapins; setting attendance records.
“At the press conference, it was just packed, as you know how big football, and sports are in Texas. It was the largest press conference I had ever been to.” said Russ, in an interview with WDVM. “This reporter raised his hand, and said ‘Do you realize what you’re getting into here? The Rice-SMU last year drew 6,000 fans, and you play in a 72,000 seat stadium. What’s your reaction to that?’. And I said, ‘Well, lemme see. 72,000 less 6,000; that’s 66,000. I guess we lead the nation in opportunities. And before I left that press conference I told them, ‘Guys, write this down. When we come back here, and we play these guys the next time, we’re gonna have 60,000 people in the stands.’ And they looked at me and thought I was crazy. And we put 61,000 in there, the next time we played Rice.”
Just one, of many examples; of Russ’ vision, his goal for bigger dreams. A large part of his inspiration to want to achieve big, comes from his time with his dad.
“Well you know I give my father so much credit -my father – always told me dream big dreams, and that every dream was possible. And he took me to all of these major league baseball games at grifitth stadium, and he talked to me all the time about thinking big, and dreaming big dreams.”, said Russ.
Russ has chased big dreams all over the country; staging, organizing, and promoting over 1,000 events in collegiate, and professional sports. HIs work at the University of Maryland, and SMU, would lead him to work as a Vice President for the Chicago White Sox, and in turn; give him a role in creating the world’s first regional sports network. But through all of his achievements, he still expresses humility, and love for his family.
“My bride of 55 years, Emily, has just been the most wonderful person; we used to live on the parade route.” said Russ, when recalling his memories about his career. “And our home was right across the judge’s stand. And of course, it was the best seat in the house, and we’d have all the celebrities there that would come, and all the political leaders would come to the parade, and that was a great thrill too. Emily was the Hostess with the Most-ess; it was nothing for us to have 400-500 people at the house there. It was packed on the house, in the lawn; it was a wonderful experience. My daughters grew up with that, and of course my grandchildren loved that.”
“It’s very much part of our very soul, we love the Apple Blossom Festival, and it is so nice to be inducted into this Hall of Fame with Walter Barr, was such a great coach. A tremendous coach at Shepherd University, and James Wood, and Sherandon, in Loudon County. And the late Wendell Dick, who was Mr. Frederick County, he was just a tremendous athlete, and leader; and he served for many years while I was in the Senate, as my legislative aide. And he just did a tremendous job in that position, and it’s really a wonderful honor that, they’re bestowing. And of course, my buddy Dick Kern, he’ll be up there in the clouds, he and Wendell will be up in the clouds with a big smile, saying Happy Bloom to us.”
Watch the full interview with Russ Potts below: