BIDDEFORD — Adric Garnett quietly joined the end of the line that led past the guest book waiting to be signed and the entrance to a chapel at the funeral home. He wasn’t at all self-conscious wearing his Southern Maine Boxing Club sweatshirt.
Garnett is an eighth-grader at Biddeford Middle School and earned a place on the honor roll last year. He’s also a boxer and Tuesday evening, accompanied by his father Dean, had come to pay his respect to Richard “Dick” Potvin, a man he never met.
Potvin started the boxing club decades ago. Partly to nurture a sport he loved, but mostly to have a place where boys and men and girls and women could learn more about themselves. Potvin believed that boxing challenged and tested you in a way no other sport could. That boxing could make you a better person, not a tougher animal.
Potvin didn’t care that the Southern Maine Boxing Club operated in the shadows of a boxing gym run by Joe Gamache Sr. and Tony Lampron as they groomed future world champion Joey Gamache and others in the basement of the Lewiston Armory. Or that Bob Russo’s Portland Boxing Club became the gold standard in Maine. Or that people in general seemed to be turning away from the sport.
If someone wanted to change or better their lives through boxing, Dick Potvin thought he could help. That was his payoff. That Russo has the same philosophy enabled their friendship and ability to work together.
“Dick was a sweetheart, he really was,” said Russo. “He was involved in so much because he loved people. I don’t know when he found time to go home.”
Potvin’s youngest son, Jay, grew up in his father’s boxing club and took over when Dick Potvin had to step away in 2005. The club, now on Main Street in Biddeford, is still a place where respect and friendships are earned at the end of a jab. Dave Marquis, who trained fighters with Dick Potvin, said just that while we sat together at Hope Memorial Chapel.
“Boxing is a misunderstood sport,” said Marquis. “You don’t just hit someone. It’s a thinking man’s sport. When the fight’s over, you respect your opponent and want to feel he respects you.”
At Potvin’s club, whoever committed to the training regimen is a person first and a boxer second, not the other way around. Ken Bouchard had Dick Potvin in his corner when he was one of the top amateurs in northern New England 20 years ago, winning the regional Golden Gloves title.
“He was amazing,” said Bouchard. “I know he cared about me.”
Jay Potvin remembers knocking out an opponent in the first round of an amateur fight. He returned to his corner where his father told him to do an about-face and talk to his opponent.
“He told me to go shake my new friend’s hand, show my respect for him and learn a little something about the person. I always listened to my father, but didn’t always understand at first. I just knocked out the guy. How can we be friends? But my father was right.”
Late last week, Jay Potvin, 45, met with his fighters and explained the club would close for a short time. His father, 83, had died.
“I know you’ve never met my father,” Potvin told them. “But if you know me, you know my father.”
That’s why Garnett and his father waited their turn to meet the Potvin family. And why Andy Walker and other members of the Southern Maine Boxing Club were already seated after paying their respects. Walker joined the club two years ago. He’s 47 and works at Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook.
“In this day and age where everyone has to be a winner and competition is watered down, I wanted to find out more about me as a person,” said Walker. “I’ve played baseball and other sports. I want to get in the ring.”
He smiles because after two years, Jay Potvin still wants to make sure he’s ready. Finding an amateur opponent over 40 who’s also a novice is a challenge, too.
“Jay is taking care of me. I never met his father but from what I’ve learned, Jay is following his father’s legacy.”
The line moved slowly for a full three hours. Photos of Dick Potvin were projected on a wall. Photos of the three-sport athlete at old Saint Louis High in Biddeford to photos of his service with the U.S. Army in the Korean War. Photos with national and local politicans. Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, came to Potvin’s house during a campaign swing.
Photos with former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier and former lightweight champ Joey Gamache. Photos of training sessions with a young Jay Potvin, once a promising amateur.
A photo of nine young girls in sweats with boxing gloves on their hands. Dick Potvin had just taught Girl Scout Troop No. 495 how to box.
In the photo, he’s standing off to the side. His smile couldn’t have been wider.
“It’s like his life was a movie and each part of his life he was a different actor.” said Jay Potvin. “He had so much fun. He was my best friend.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: