Tennis became a chore of sorts rather than an enjoyable activity for Melissa Detwiler, who played the game at a high level in college and professionally.
She has created a character that ensures the game will be fun going forward for not only her, but as many children as she can reach across the United States.
It was Tuesday, for students at Socastee Elementary.
Detwiler, a 1987 Myrtle Beach High graduate who resides in Los Angeles, stopped at the elementary school – part of a nearly six-week U.S. tour as Henry the Sports Bug.
The children’s book mascot’s message to youth is to get excited about sports, be active, make healthy choices and have a sense of fair play, and it encourages reading and creativity.
“Tennis for me was a job, and I didn’t want it to be a job for kids,” said Detwiler, who is a tennis instructor. “The kids I coached, I wanted them to have fun.”
Detwiler is the daughter of former Seahawks tennis coach Bob Detwiler, who now owns a pair of miniature golf courses in North Myrtle Beach and is the president of the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association.
“He put a racket in my hand when I was little and tennis became my life,” Detwiler said. She lived at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida for two years, played on a pro satellite circuit at 17, then played for both Clemson and Boston University before moving to Los Angeles.
Detwiler created Henry the Sports Bug about a decade ago and authored five Henry children’s books that sat idle for several years. She decided to self-publish the first book about two years ago and it recently became available.
“The Adventures of Henry the Sports Bug” is a story is about a bug who isn’t popular, turns to sports and is turned into a super hero sports bug by a magic turtle.
The second book – also involving tennis – should be published within six months. She hopes to have all five published by the end of the year and will be writing more that will incorporate other sports.
“There are so many life lessons learned by every sport, and there has to be a book for every sport, at least,” Detwiler said.
Whatever the sport is, Henry the mascot’s torso can become the ball. The mascot has a big smile, big eyes, eyelashes and tentacles. Detwiler packed the costume in her Kia Sole wrapped in vinyl Henry decoration on Jan. 3, and headed East.
“I got in the car and said, ‘I’m winging it,’” Detwiler said. “I didn’t really have any schools lined up. The response I’ve had has been excellent.”
She has visited schools in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina thus far, and plans to stop in more towns in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas before returning to L.A. on Feb. 11. The appearances all are at no charge.
“I’d love to be able to get a corporate sponsor that gets what we’re doing and helps us get into schools,” Detwiler said. “I’d love to be able to take Henry into every single state and visit elementary schools.”
A Chick-fil-A location in Greenville is doing a Chick-fil-A/Henry the Sports Bug day on Saturday that is being promoted through Greenville area schools, and Detwiler is taking her message to patients at the Birmingham (Ala.) Children’s Hospital on Monday.
School visits include a Henry book reading, and the book has activity and coloring pages for the kids. Henry participates in the sports instruction but doesn’t speak.
Detwiler aspires to continue the series of books, have a cartoon spinoff and make Henry comparable in popularity to SpongeBob SquarePants. “Why not?” she said.