TF South community remembers coach and teacher Lori Potacki

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Former softball coach, swimming coach, teacher, and mentor received touching tribute on TF South softball field

By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (April 7, 2022) – Around 100 people gathered at the TF South softball field Wednesday afternoon — not to watch a game, but to honor a memory.

Remembering Lori Potacki

Lori Potacki passed away in December of 2020. She was a TF South teacher and coach. (Photo provided)

Lori Potacki was a TF South softball and swimming coach, special education teacher, and physical education teacher at TF South before her death in December of 2020.

“Her loss is an incredible loss to our school, the district, and our students,” TF South Principal Jacob Gourley said to the crowd gathered along the left field line on the blustery afternoon.

As part of the short program on Wednesday, TF South unveiled a memorial for Potacki, located directly beneath the scoreboard. The sign says, “In loving memory of Lori Potacki,” and “Always with us, our angel in the outfield.”

Lori Potacki
A new sign under the scoreboard at the TF South softball field honors the memory of Lori Potacki. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Members of the Potacki family were present at the event, as were some of Potacki’s former students and athletes, and members of the larger TF South community, most of which wore red “Playing for Potacki” t-shirts.

Though a game against Potacki’s high school alma mater Stagg High School was scheduled for Wednesday, poor weather cancelled the game. However, a coach from Stagg was present, and gave Potacki’s parents jerseys Potacki wore while in high school. Potacki’s father also threw out a ceremonial first pitch in her honor.

Lori Potacki
Stagg High School’s softball coach presented Lori Potacki’s parents with jerseys worn by Potacki when she was in high school. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

A chance to mourn together

In an emotional moment, Gourley told the crowd, “Losing Lori was such a difficult thing for all of us, and I think it was compounded because we never really got a chance to mourn together.”

Potacki passed away over the holiday break in 2020, and during the heart of a pandemic in which TF South was learning remotely.

In her role as special education teacher, Potacki interacted with many students and teachers at TF South. “Most people have their own little area, but by nature of what she did, she touched every department,” Gourley said.

Jacob Gourley spoke passionately about Lori Potacki’s positive effect on the TF South community. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Coach Potacki

Some of Potacki’s former athletes were present at the ceremony, as was her once co-coach Jamie Sawyer.

“We went from growing up in high school to her being a bridesmaid at my wedding,” Sawyer said, who coached softball with Potacki at TFS. “The memories we made here are something you can’t make up and you can’t forget.”

“She would make me hit like six different times in the cage if it wasn’t perfect,” remembered Sydney Harrison, a former TFS softball player.

“She definitely was a mother to all of us,” said Sarah Kessler, another former player.

TF South Athletic Director Marc Brewe — standing near Potacki’s family — said Potacki “touched everbody’s lives” that she interacted with. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Closure

Potacki’s brother Mike Potacki said the Wednesday event was a meaningful bit of closure after his sister’s death during the pandemic: “This is the closure we never really had. Because when she passed away it was the middle of COVID. … This was a chance for everyone to remember her life, to smile, to cry, to have the closure that we needed.”

Mike Potacki said Lori started playing softball when she was eight years old.

“By the time she was in high school, we had a batting cage in the backyard, and a pitching mound. … She absolutely loved softball. Loved playing it, loved coaching it,” Mike Potacki said.

“It seems so fitting that her name is on this field. It’s perfect,” Sawyer said.

The Lori Potacki memorial sign can be viewed in left field of the TF South softball field, located on the west side of the high school, near Chicago Avenue. TF South is located at 18500 Burnham Avenue in Lansing.

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