By Kyle Wylie
Bakersfield Girls Scout Troop #605. Erica McCall (2nd to left) met her best friend Bekka Potter (2nd to right with blue sweatshirt) while as a girl scout in the 3rd Grade. The bond of their friendship is with Erica till this day.
Rebekka “Bekka” Lynn Potter.
For many people in Bakersfield, California the name Bekka Potter is unfamiliar. However, for a small percentage of the population, the name means so much more.
Bekka Potter was born August 12, 1995 in Bakersfield to Jim and Katrina Potter as well as to an older brother named Jared. Bekka grew up in a very loving and caring family in which the teachings of Jesus Christ drove their value system and influenced how they treated people. With such love and care, Bekka quickly developed character and attributes that made her parents proud. Bekka was a sweet and compassionate young girl who never spoke ill of anyone, but instead found the best in everyone that she met. Bekka had a sense of humor and presence about her that seemed to illuminate each room that she entered. Bekka and her family were active members of Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene and when Bekka entered middle school, her passion became being involved with her youth group and helping others. Beyond being a girl of high character, Bekka busied herself with a wide variety of activities. Bekka was very active in Girl Scouts in which she belonged to a local chapter in Bakersfield – Troop #605. In talking with some of her friends, it became apparent that Bekka emerged as one of the leaders of Troop #605 because of her optimism, sense of humor, and ability to find the best attributes in everyone. Bekka also possessed musical talents as she excelled at playing the piano. I was able to witness her abilities on the piano as my mother, Diane Wylie, was her piano teacher. Bekka was always prepared when she came for her lessons and had an attitude of always trying to improve; with her dedication to the piano, Bekka and my mother quickly formed a special bond between teacher and student. My father, Larry Wylie, who was also the minister at Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene, always enjoyed when Bekka came over because of the larger than life personality that she had. My father would strategically wait for the end of the lesson and would come out of a different room just to spend time with my mother and Bekka and laugh. Bekka’s sense of humor and kindred spirit left an impact on my parents and over time, Bekka and her family essentially became an extension of our family.
Beyond her abilities as a Girl Scout and future Mozart, Bekka was very active in one sport – basketball. Bekka played youth basketball for an organization called NJB as well as for the after school program at her local elementary school. I remember in the summer of 2007 hosting a basketball camp for the younger kids at the same church she attended and Bekka, who was in 6th grade, volunteered to help train some of the younger children with basic skills. This was the first time that I had seen Bekka and her abilities as a basketball player. Bekka was a natural dribbler and although she may have struggled with her off hand, in between drills and sessions with the younger kids, Bekka would be off to the side working on that off hand, trying to become an expert dribbler that could dribble with both hands. Bekka was destined for greatness – both as an influential leader among her peers and as a basketball player.
The tough part about this article is writing about such an amazing girl in the past tense. In 2007, as she was starting Stonecreek Junior High, Bekka began to deal with an illness that kept her out of many activities. At first, many people thought it was just a case of a child being sick, but the illness limited Bekka to start out the school year at home rather than being in school with her friends. I remember that the worry of Bekka became more prominent as she had to endure a number of tests because simply, she wasn’t getting better. I remember the sadness of my parents over Bekka because they missed the weekly time that they spent with Bekka laughing and growing closer. Bekka’s parents showed strength and resolve as they turned to their church for support and encouragement through such a trying time, but looks of concern over their only daughter’s health was shown on their faces. Overtime, Bekka’s health did improve and she was able to go back to school and to church. I remember seeing Bekka, knowing that she had been through hell as her illness took a toll on her physically. Bekka, who was once full of life and energy, was pale, slightly emaciated, and lacked the energy that she once had. Yet, in the midst of her recovery, Bekka maintained her sense of humor and still managed to smile to everyone that she conversed with. She was inspirational in the midst of her illness and on her road to recovery.
As 2008 neared, Bekka became sick again. This time Bekka was sent to Valley Children’s Hospital for care and on January 28, 2008, Bekka passed away. On February 2, 2008, my father officiated her celebration of life at Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene. My father served for over forty years as a minister and if you ask him today one of the hardest and most difficult times that he had to endure, the funeral for Bekka Potter was probably one of the hardest services that he had ever conducted because of how special Bekka was to him and my mother.
For months, Bekka’s passing still weighed on the hearts of those that knew her. We all missed her. That energy, that passion, that zeal for life was gone. It was hard to go to church and not see Bekka cracking jokes with her friends or smiling at those that passed by her. As summer approached, I planned to have another basketball skills camp for children, but the void of Bekka’s passing loomed over me. However, there was something tugging inside of me to have a basketball camp and call it, “1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp.” I asked Bekka’s parents if they were ok with that title and through tears, they gave me approval and so in summer of 2008, I hosted the “1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp.” At the first day of the game, the gym at Bakersfield First Church of the Nazarene was packed with children from all over the community of Bakersfield. A brief message about Bekka was delivered to the campers, but, just as Bekka wanted, the practicing of the skills of basketball became the focal point. Each camper wore a grey t-shirt with the slogan “1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp” with orange and blue donning the shirt along with a butterfly, as butterflies were Bekka’s favorite insect.
On the second day of camp, a tall man, that looked like he once played professional basketball, introduced himself and his daughter, who was going into 8th grade just like Bekka would have. He said, “Hi my name is Greg McCall and this is my daughter Erica. Erica was really close to Bekka.” This was the first time that I met Erica McCall. Greg further said, “Erica is currently attending a basketball camp at CSUB (California State University of Bakersfield) while this camp is going on, but she wants to be here for Bekka. So, right when the camp ends, Erica will be running out of here to get to CSUB.” I looked at amazement and said, “Thanks for the heads up and I will make sure that she finishes on time, so that she can go to both.” As Greg got in his car and drove away, I told Erica to line up with the rest of basketball players and I would tell her what to do in a few minutes as more children were coming in. One of my assistants next to me said, “Kyle, do you know who that man is?” I said, “It’s some guy named Greg who brought his daughter to camp, I guess there is a basketball camp going on at CSUB.” My assistant said, “Kyle, that’s Greg McCall, Head Coach for CSUB Women’s Basketball.” You see, I am a Bakersfield transplant and it was obvious that my head was in the ground, but I was amazed at the fact that here was this head coach’s daughter of a collegiate basketball program wanting to come to this camp instead of her father’s camp. I realized that Bekka and Erica must have had a special friendship.
It was quickly obvious who the best player in the gym was. There were coaches who played high school basketball and knew the game that were assisting at the camp, but Erica McCall was a special talent who was far more talented than anyone else was. As I talked with those that knew Erica, it quickly became known that Erica was the best female basketball player in town for her age and was destined for greatness. Through every drill that was performed at Bekka’s camp, Erica not only demonstrated that she was the best player, but she also that she was the hardest worker. With every transition between drills, this superstar 8th grader was sprinting and hustling. Erica was quick to help the younger kids and her enthusiasm for the game was contagious. Coaches at the camp became better coaches because Erica was around. Right when camp ended on that first day, Erica indicated to me that she had to leave and she would run out of the gym, hop in a car, and go to CSUB for more basketball. For the next three days, Erica showed up with the same enthusiasm and every day, she would hustle out of the gym to get to CSUB for her father’s camp. On the last day of the camp, I met up with Coach McCall and expressed gratitude for allowing Erica to attend Bekka’s camp. He told me that Erica would not miss it for anything and that honoring Bekka’s legacy was important to her. The camp was successful and many children honored Bekka’s legacy. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, the “1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp” only lasted that one summer, but Bekka’s legacy and Erica’s attendance at the camp left a profound impact for the next years to come.
Over the next few years, Erica McCall became the face of high school girls’ basketball in Bakersfield, Kern County, the state of California, and she was a highly coveted prospect by many powerhouse universities and colleges. Erica played and started four years of varsity basketball at Ridgeview High School, was a captain for three of those years, and helped the Wolfpack to capture a few Valley Championships. As a senior, McCall was a WBCA All American as well as a McDonald’s All American, both prestigious honors for a high school basketball player. Erica was also named the Cal Hi Sports CIF Central Section Division II Player of the Year and finished among the tops in the state in both rebounds and blocked shots for her career. In 2012, Geno Auriemma, Head Coach of the University of Connecticut, came to Bakersfield in the middle of his season to watch Erica play; Coach Auriemma is a Hall of Fame Coach and known as the best women’s college basketball coach of all time, so his attendance at one of her games was a once in a lifetime experience. Erica also excelled on the basketball club scene as she helped lead her club team to three FILA national titles. Erica was an elite talent as well as an elite person.
In high school, Erica played with a passion and energy that simply couldn’t be matched. Erica’s Head Coach, Mike Martin, tells me, “Erica is, by far, the most special player I have ever been around. Night in and night out not only was she was the best player on the court, but there was no one that worked harder than she did. She played the game how all coaches want their players to play. Every day after practice, after all of her teammates left, Erica would keep my assistant coaches and I in the gym, so that we could feed her passes, so that she could get extra shots in. What separates Erica from everyone else is her passion and constant desire to be the best.”
After high school, Erica accepted a full scholarship to play basketball at Stanford University. This year, as a senior, Erica led the Stanford Women’s Basketball team to the Final Four, and the redundant theme of Erica’s game was prevalent from announcers and commentators - her passion and enthusiasm for the game. With every block shot, hustle play, made shot, or 50/50 ball, Erica was there to share her passion, motivate her team, and celebrate every success. Erica celebrated her teammates and the game of basketball that truly inspired all who watched her. Erica averaged about 14 points and 9 rebounds in her final two seasons, but the stats and the numbers didn’t matter to her, the passion and love of the game did.
Throughout every accomplishment and game played by Erica, something powerful happens to me. The remembrance of the life and enthusiasm of Bekka Potter saturate my thoughts and emotions, sometimes leading me to tears. When Erica put up crazy video game like numbers in high school, I thought of Bekka. When the legendary Geno Auriemma came to Bakersfield to watch and scout Erica, I thought of Bekka. When Erica went to Stanford and inspired her teammates, I thought of Bekka. When Erica would holler and celebrate a block in a Final Four game, I thought of Bekka. This year, I was fortunate to watch Erica’s little brother Justin McCall win a Valley Championship for Ridgeview High School as well as see him fly in the air with some NBA Jam game like dunks. When I saw Justin, I thought of Erica and then with thoughts of Erica, I thought of Bekka. As the WNBA draft comes on Thursday, thoughts of Bekka again enter my mind. It is through Erika, that I see the enthusiasm, humor, passion, and love for life of a girl whose life was cut short almost a decade ago – BEKKA POTTER.
On July 4, 2015 I was enjoying the festivities of Independence Day at Coach Mike Martin’s house. I am marrying his wife’s sister, Marina Martin’s sister Misty Castellon, and so it was a celebratory family gathering for the aforementioned holiday. On that day, we all gathered around Coach Martin’s TV because Erica was playing at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. It was amazing to see Erica don the USA jersey to coincide with her passion and enthusiasm, even in South Korea. A few hours after the game, Coach Martin’s daughter, Nichole Martin, who also played with Erica at Ridgeview High School, was on her phone FaceTiming Erica and talking about the game. I asked Nikki (Nichole) to let me get on the phone and congratulate Erica. Moreover, I also wanted to inquire Erica to see if she remembered when she participated at Bekka’s basketball camp seven years prior. Nikki allowed me to and before she could answer, I told Erica, “Every time I see you play or read about your accomplishments, I think of your friend Bekka Potter and her lasting legacy.” Through a slight distortion of FaceTime on an iPhone, Erica said, “Are you kidding me? Look.” Erica panned the phone back and she was wearing the camp shirt that was issued to all the participants of the “1stAnnual Bekka Potter Camp”. I teared up and was blown away. Erica then stated, “This shirt comes with me on every road trip.” Here is Erica McCall, star basketball player, still remembering the legacy of her friend. Of all the trophies, awards, and accolades that Erica has received over the years, one of the most special possessions that she has is her “1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp” T Shirt.
Erica McCall has her "1st Annual Bekka Potter Basketball Camp" T-Shirt every time she travels. It will be with her at the WNBA Draft.
This past Monday, I was fortunate to sit down with Erica McCall and ask her direct questions about Bekka and of course, she was wearing her Bekka Potter shirt. Erica said that she met Bekka in the 3rd grade and from then on, they were close friends. Bekka and Erica were in Girl Scouts together in Troop 605 and they even played basketball together while attending Panama Elementary School. Erica says this about the legacy of her friend, “Bekka was the sweetest person that I have ever met. She genuinely cared about others and their well-being. She was also very funny and kept our group of friends laughing. She also wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.” In the dorms of Stanford University, on Erica’s desk was a picture of Bekka, reminding her of the benevolence of her friend who passed away far too soon.
As far as Bekka and the game of basketball, I asked Erica, “How was Bekka on the basketball court?” Erica stated, “She had a passion and love for the game that couldn’t be taken away. Bekka loved the game of basketball. I know that Bekka played piano and was a Girl Scout, but she loved playing basketball. I remember in 6th grade, Bekka had a game in which she absolutely just balled out and she inspired the rest of us (her teammates) to play better. I have no doubt in my mind that if Bekka made it to high school, she would’ve played right next to us at Ridgeview.” I looked at Erica and said, “Erica, all of those attributes about Bekka that you mentioned are what the announcers and commentators say about you. From your picture on the Stanford Women’s Basketball website, to your block in the Final Four game, passion and enthusiasm about the game of basketball are what define you. Do you think about Bekka when you play?” Erica quickly responded, “I think about Bekka all the time on the basketball court. With every smile, with every outburst, every time I hustle, I think of Bekka. Every time that I travel on the road, Bekka’s camp shirt is with me. From South Korea representing my country to New York City at the Draft, Bekka’s presence and her shirt will be with me.”
In concluding our time together, I asked Erica about the upcoming WNBA Draft on Thursday, “What do you want teams to see in Erica McCall?” She responded, “I want to teams to see my passion for the game. I want teams to see my sincere love for basketball. Sometimes athletes get burned out, but I love the game of basketball more than ever. I also want people in the WNBA to see something different about my game and who Erica McCall is as a person.” I hope teams see what Erica McCall is all about. I hope teams see what Coach Mike Martin was able to see as her high school coach and what the Stanford staff was able to witness for four years. I hope teams see Bekka Potter in Erica.
Bekka and Erica. Even after the death of a close friend, Erica McCall has remained a loyal friend that never forgets the impact that Bekka Potter had on her life both as a friend and as a player. When one watches Erica play in the WNBA and beyond, they can get a glimpse at who Bekka Potter was and who Erica McCall is – a passionate, caring, and loving soul who was and is dedicated to improving the lives of the people around them.