By Tori Brock

Brenda Nichols is known throughout Huntsville as coach of the women's basketball team at Sam Houston State University. What few people realize is she's also a published children's book illustrator.

Nichols said as a child, she knew she wanted to be a commercial artist, but a basketball scholarship led her in another direction.

"I grew up drawing," she said. "I was tagged early on as learning disabled. In the '60s and '70s, they put me in these classes to get better at what I was supposed to learn, but instead, I drew.

"As I got older, my goal was I wanted to become an artist and I wanted to work on the French Quarter and draw," she added. "I went to school to become a commercial artist. I took a little bit of art and came to Sam Houston my junior year."

After transferring to SHSU, Nichols said her plans were to major in art and minor in physical education.

"My coach said I couldn't take the art classes because it interfered with basketball," she said. "Back then, I didn't know any better.

"I came here to play basketball. The education was just going to be the icing on the cake," she said. "I changed my career and went on to become a coach. I gave up art and minored in it."

Nichols said it took 20 years to rediscover her first love of drawing. One day while she was talking with Judy Phillips, counselor at Sam Houston Elementary, she discovered Phillips had written a children's book.

"Judy Phillips had come in and she had been killing time and she wrote this story about a moose named Beauregard," Nichols recalled. "I hadn't picked up a pencil in 20 years, but jokingly I said, "I'll draw your book."

"About a month later, I found it and drew it and I texted Judy at 4 in the morning and told her I was finished," she added. "I brought it to her that morning and it took off. I got on and started researching books and how to get published."

The first book by Nichols and Phillips is "Beauregard Le' Moose is Loose in New Orleans," and is now available  at Barnes and Noble booksellers at www.barnesandnoble.com .

Because publisher Timothy Smith of Smooth Sailing Press already had a completed book he needed illustrations for, Nichols was tapped to illustrate "Wooly Willie's New Day," which has already been published.

Nichols' has now illustrated two Wooly Willie books and more Beauregard books are in the works.

"To me as the books keep going, I keep getting better and better," Nichols said. "I'm a detail-oriented person.

"Anything I do, I want it to be the best," she added. "I never dreamed I'd be illustrating children's books."

Nichols said the artistic awakening has been good for her career as a basketball coach because drawing is a great stress reliever for her.

"I think it made me a calmer coach last year because drawing is an outlet for me," she said. "I think drawing a page is like scoring a goal. When I finish a page, I'm like, "Whoo, I nailed it."

"It's like a little competition for me now," she said. "It's giving me that outlet to do something with my talents and I never thought I'd use my talents in that area."

Nicholls will be holding a special Christmas book signing event in Huntsville at Hastings on Wednesday, December 22.