Knoxville writer keeps kids playing sports

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

Rhiannon Potkey grew up in California playing sports – she lost a tennis match at age 10 to Serena Williams and was none too happy about it – and always had the athletics gear she needed. But she noticed that her teammates weren’t as fortunate and that ultimately would lead to a nonprofit that Potkey now runs as an adult in Knoxville.

After tennis, the young athlete shifted in middle school to team sports and played basketball, soccer and softball in her hometown of Ventura.

“The area where I lived, there was some rich people, but there was a lot of  farmworkers,” Potkey said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “We were pretty middle class, so my dad would always be the one to drive kids home. I’d get new cleats for Christmas and they had the same ones for three years and the same with basketball shoes.

Rhiannon Potkey

“I was like, ‘Why don’t they get new stuff?’ It planted the seed. I saw the discrepancies between athletes at a young age and didn’t think it was fair because I knew the kids didn’t have anything to do with it. It was circumstances beyond their control.”

While the idea to help started in middle school, it was in a classroom at Ventura County High School that Potkey outlined in a notebook how her organization would work when she was in a position to help.

“People like my dad that helped was always inspiring to me, too,” said Potkey, who is 43 and works as a freelance sports writer after more than 20 years in the newspaper business in three states. “I want to try to do as much as possible to help and to keep these kids playing sports.”

That opportunity came in Knoxville while Potkey was still covering the football beat full-time for the News Sentinel. She collected sports gear and donations and made sure it got in the hands of athletes who needed it.

Potkey ended up in Knoxville after working for newspapers in Ventura and Salt Lake City, Utah, primarily in sports but also in an editor role. She covered sports for the News Sentinel until 2018 and then switched to freelance work to focus more time on her nonprofit, which became an official 501(c)(3) called Goods4Greatness. A University of Tennessee College of Law student earned credit while helping Potkey set up the nonprofit.

The best way to help is to donate directly on the Goods4Greatness website HERE. Potkey also can accept gift cards or donations of new equipment. She can be reached at 805-910-9341 or by email at

The thank you messages that Potkey receives underscored that the efforts mattered. One child was so grateful for socks. Youth sports can be prohibitively expensive for some familie, but hundreds of kids have stayed on the field or on the court because of a one-woman operation.

Rhiannon Potkey’s car is loaded with new shoes and socks for a delivery.

“Anything I can do to alleviate some stress from the parents or the kids is truly what I want to be doing,” Potkey said. “It’s a life mission for me now.”

Potkey focuses primarily on East Tennessee and the Nashville area – Title I high school programs often are beneficiaries – and she usually makes the drive herself to deliver gear. She also tries to respond to regional needs, and two youth coaches drove to Knoxville from Beattyville, Kentucky, during the wicked storms Monday to pick up donated softball gear.

“They’re driving all that way to bring it back to their small rural town that’s in coal country,” Potkey said.

Potkey used to accept used gear from individuals, but it became too hard to clean, sort and store. Besides monetary donations, gift cards or new equipment, individuals or groups can hold fundraisers, and Potkey can earmark the funds for a particular child or team. Good4Greatness also will send sponsored kids to camps such as the one held in July by Lady Vols softball player Kiki Milloy and several of her teammates.

Austin-East High School football players got new cleats from Goods4Greatness.

A primary source of equipment also comes from college programs. Colleges get new gear on a regular basis, so the donated used equipment tends to be high quality – and the logos excite the kids. Colleges are prohibited from making direct donations because the recipients could be recruitable athletes. But Goods4Greatness can be the go-between distributor. Tennessee softball was one of the first programs to get on board.

Jonsi, a Knox County elementary school student, got new shoes and a basketball.

“Colleges want to give back, they want to help kids,” Potkey said. “They just need someone to take the gear and distribute it, and there’s an NCAA bylaw that allows it. It’s been a real blessing because these colleges can help their community, and they can they make new fans through it.

“A lot of girls that wear the stuff become fans and follow the program. They feel like the colleges really care about them, and it inspires them. If they don’t play later in college, at least it inspires them to go to college or think it’s possible.

“It usually comes in bulk. A college program will donate a whole bunch of stuff, and I’ll redistribute it locally or in surrounding states. That helps an entire high school program keep going. That’s become my main focus outside of raising money. Raising money is always my number one.”

Now, back to that tennis match against a then 9-year-old Serena Williams who defeated Potkey in straight sets to win a juniors tournament in 1990 in Orange County, California. Potkey was mad but smiled for the photo taken by her proud dad. Potkey’s coach, who had played in Grand Slams, told her to save the photo because Williams was going to win a lot of championships. Nine years after the photo, Williams won her first Grand Slam title en route to a total of 23, the most in the open era.

Potkey shared the photo in 2022 after Williams’ storied career ended at the U.S. Open, and the tweet went viral and was the source of national coverage including this story HERE.

Potkey also went on to do great things with Goods4Greatness. It consumes a lot of time and miles on her car, and Potkey doesn’t draw any salary. If she ever wins a lottery, it will become her full-time venture.

“Knowing that I played a small part in hopefully keeping a kid playing sports and knowing it might not be possible if they didn’t get these donations is completely what gets me up in the morning,” Potkey said. “I know it’s my calling. I love it. I almost feel guilty because it brings me so much joy.

“There’s such a need. I’m touching a small percentage. I’m doing what I can, and I can’t beat myself up for not doing more but the more funds I can get, the more kids we can help.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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