If you've been to more than a couple Minneapolis high school sporting events, you've probably seen Steve Kotvis before. You just wouldn't recognize him on the street, unless he held a giant camera lens in front of his face.
You can usually find him belly-down in the mud at a football or soccer game, or ducking and running around a hockey or gymnastics arena as he tries to get the perfect shot, regardless of a team's athletic record. This dogged, enthusiastic approach to covering an ordinarily unglamorous subject has won Kotvis a legion of fans among players and parents alike.
"He makes kids look like Adrian Peterson," said Jodi Wishart Anderson, the head of the Southwest High School Alumni Foundation and a Lakers booster parent.
That appreciation is evident in some of the shots Kotvis posts on the photo-sharing site Smugmug. In between the glamor shots, a few students pose for Kotvis' camera in between plays.
Anderson said that at least at Southwest High School, many athletes will turn Kotvis' photos into their Facebook portraits or wallpaper.
"His dedication tells these kids that 'you are of value, you're just as good as everybody else" in suburban schools where more money is spent on athletic programs, Anderson said. "They don't write him thank-you notes, but they do share his photos a lot."
A former ad man, Kotvis got into photography after years of watching the City of Lakes Loppet, which runs near his Kenwood home. As his hobby grew, he started photographing games his son—then a Southwest student—played in.
"I gave a CD to my son to pass to his coach, who was also his teacher," Kotvis said. "When my son got home, he said 'It was like crack, Dad.' His coach gave the class a reading assignment and spent the entire period looking at my photos."
That kind of rapt audience for his shots encouraged him—Anderson said many of Southwest's student players look forward to the games when Kotvis can make it. But, Kotvis explained to Patch, he's inspired to keep it up because it shows a positive, even glamorous side of the Minneapolis Public Schools, even if many schools don't have the winningest teams in their divisions.
"I worked to pass school referendums, but what I saw is a lack of a positive urban identity for urban kids," he said.
"Arts and sports are great ways to connect people with the schools in their neighborhoods" and he wants to see more publicity for those efforts, Kotvis added. "Compare most of our sports games to the packed stands at an Edina High School football game."