When Jacobs boys and girls tennis coach Jon Betts found out that his son Henry James had muscular dystrophy, he turned to his teams with the news.
Betts was coaching the Hampshire boys team when he found out last spring that Henry, who will be 2 in November, had been diagnosed with merosin deficient congenital muscular dystrophy.
“Some of the first people I shared it with is my team,” Betts said. “They’re my family. They were extremely accepting and supportive.”
Three players on Jacobs’ girls team took it a step further. They organized the Hit for Henry fundraiser that brought together two of Betts’ passions, tennis and family.
Now in its second year, Hit for Henry is a tennis clinic and tournament June 6 to 8 at Jacobs. All proceeds will benefit Henry Betts and his fight against Muscular Dystrophy.
The clinic is for students in elementary and middle school along with beginning adults June 6. The tournament is for high school and adult tennis players interested in playing for a good cause.
“Our coach has given us so much,” Emma Nickoley, one of the organizers, said. “We just wanted to help him out.”
Morgan Vacchio said the support from the Jacobs and Hampshire tennis communities has been great.
“I think people have been more than willing to come out,” Vacchio said. “Signing up is their way of helping Henry.”
Dena Kontos said the support is for Henry, but the willingness to help out is because of Betts.
“It was surprising to see how many people had been touched by our coach,” Kontos said.
Nickoley said the impact Betts has had on players is because you don’t have to be one of the best players on the team to get his attention.
“[Betts] puts in so much extra time,” Nickoley said. “He doesn’t just focus on the main players. He focuses on everybody.”
When Betts found out what his team wanted to do, he said he was blown away by their generosity and compassion.
“I’ve been extremely extremely fortunate to work with some of the most incredible men and women [at Jacobs] and at Hampshire,” Betts said. “To do that is really something special for my family.”
As a fourth-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Carpentersville and the boys and girls tennis coach at Jacobs, Betts said his wife, Stephanie, bears most of the responsibility for Henry and their two daughters, Gracie, 3, and Claire, 2.
He said Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom, but the term doesn’t really apply with all the running around she does to get Henry to therapy two to three times a week in Evanston and Glen Ellyn and treatment at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
“[Stephanie’s] the hardest worker out of our family,” Betts said. “I’ve got the easier job by far. I’m very lucky to have Steph.”
Betts lights up when he talks about his son and proudly said that Henry had rolled over by himself a couple of months ago. Although the prognosis for how much Henry will develop is still unknown, Betts is sure of the impact that Henry has had and will continue to have on others.
“He’s just the happiest kid you’ll ever meet,” Betts said. “He’s going to do some great things.”
Henry has also inspired some fundraisers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Henry Hustle MDA 5k is a run/walk on Thanksgiving Day put together by Betts’ friends Seth and Karen Kopf, who run Kopf Running. Betts' friends Kim Kreiling and Steve Jenkins are each running the Chicago Marathon in Henry's name while raising money for MDA through the Team Momentum charity running program.
And Betts’s brother Chris, who runs Transient Artisan Ales craft brewery in Lansing, donates a percentage of sales of "Henry," an American porter, to MDA.
To sign up for Hit for Henry, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration has been extended through Wednesday.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com.