Michael O'Heir seeks bronze or gold, depending . . .


June 21, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Pass the SPF-correct lotion and make a toast to King Sol. Little Miss Coppertone turns 40 this year. But the pig-tailed toddler and her cheeky pup aren't the only stars to have their day in the sun. The sun-tan giant has attracted many big names and shapely curves to promote the bronzing biz. But hail the sexist-conquering '90s: A local boy is competing to become the first Little Mr. Coppertone.

No one was more surprised than Michael O'Heir to learn he'd made the finals of the Little Mr. Coppertone contest.

You see, the 8-year-old didn't even know he'd entered.

Credit for that goes to his mother Terri, a self-described "closet contest-enterer," who sent in his picture and ballot during a national search for the next Coppertone kids.

Today, on this first day of summer, Michael will be in Florida squaring off against nine other boys for the chance to be the sun-kissed youth in a future ad. He'll be grilled by Regis Philbin and judged by, among others, Cheri Brand, the original model for Little Miss Coppertone.

During a recent interview, Michael, a shy youngster whose brown eyes are several shades deeper than his tanned skin, sits on his mother's lap in their Stoneleigh home and describes what the distinction means to him.

"I feel happy," he says. "I won a trip to Disney World."

Thanks to his efforts, he and his family, including his 6-year-old sister, Erin, will be spending four days in Disney World, the site of the judging. Although he's not nervous, Michael, the only Maryland finalist, does have two concerns about his first foray into national competition.

Will he get to go on the rides, regardless of the outcome? (Yes.) And will some dog be nipping at his bathing suit trunks? (No.)

Word of his honor, and the fact that he competed against some 100,000 kids to make the finals, spread quickly through Stoneleigh Elementary School, where he's in second grade.

Some students have even taken to calling him Mr. Coppertone, a nickname he doesn't like.

"That's not too great," he says. "It's embarrassing."

Has he been preparing for the big day?

"She makes me," he says, pointing toward his mother.

And indeed the family has had dinner-time Q&As to help him relax during the interview. The questions he's fielded include:

* Who's your favorite Oriole? Brady Anderson.

* What sports do you like? Baseball, basketball, soccer and lacrosse.

* What's your best subject in school? Math.

There also have been sacrifices in the last month -- including two haircuts, a shopping trip and extra visits to the pool to work on his tan. But he credits dodgeball games during recess rather than weekend swims with giving him that bronze glow. (Incidentally, he uses Water Babies SPF 15.)

"The status of Michael's tan has become a family joke," says Ms. O'Heir, 39, a part-time flight attendant.

He seems unfazed at the prospect of striking a blow for male equality by competing in Coppertone's first contest for boys.

"I would like to the first boy because it will be fun," he says simply. "It means I might get a lot of attention."

Ten girls will also vie for the title of Little Miss Coppertone. The two winners will appear in an ad next summer.

Although friends and family have been generally supportive, the O'Heirs have received some negative feedback from parents who think these contests are unhealthy for children.

"We're thrilled and proud of him.. . . And we're going to love and appreciate him whether he wins or not," says his father, Bruce, 40, an executive with a construction company.

The real irony is that Michael almost wasn't entered in the contest at all. It was only as Ms. O'Heir was finishing the entry blank and short essay for Erin (who received honorable mention) that she decided to throw in a picture of Michael, too.

"You hate to call him an afterthought," she says, "but that's what happened."

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