Melissa Wharton always knew her way around the volleyball court, and her experiences as a student-athlete have helped shape a successful entrepreneurial career.
Wharton is the founder, president and CEO of The Church Online, technology, design and publishing company which provides services to help ministries communicate through various platforms.
“Dr. William H. Curtis and I have built the company into what it is today from the ground up,” Wharton said. “The company provides live video streaming, video on demand, website development, mobile app development, graphic design services, video production services and book publishing services.
“Through many years of experiencing the outreach needs of churches, I could see that there was a tremendous need for ministries all over the world to become more effective communicators and to utilize technology more effectively to do so. The Church Online has worked with more than 2000 ministry leaders and organizations worldwide on more than 10,000 projects and we have helped our ministry partners raise more than $35 million.”
Wharton has been able to make a significant impact for ministries and people who want to attend services but may have to get creative to do so.
“I enjoy extending the walls of the traditional church to allow people throughout the world, who are not able to attend services physically, to participate online through live and on demand video. We utilize technology to bring traditional worship services to thousands of people on a weekly basis no matter where they may be.
“We have published several books for some of the most influential pastors in the U.S. Having the opportunity to work closely with ministries that are making a significant impact in so many lives is not something we take for granted. I have enjoyed building and working with a team of professionals that come in to work everyday with the same goals and understanding that we accomplish everything that we do, together, as a team. This is of course where Bucknell and my time in organized sports truly helped to shape my life.”
That time in organized sports, or at least on the volleyball court, started a little later for Wharton than it does for others. She knew nothing about the sport when she began playing volleyball in the eighth grade, but listened to the advice of a teacher to begin a path that would eventually shape her professional career.
“One of my history teachers, Mr. Dan Brown, was the coach of the high school girls and boys teams,” she said. “He often told me that I should try out for the volleyball team. As I knew nothing about the sport, I had no idea why he thought I would make a good player. As it turns out, I was very tall for my age, which is an incredibly helpful attribute in the sport! I finally gave in to his prompts and tried out for the team. That decision was one I would not regret!”
As she developed in the sport, the next decision would be on where to attend college. Wharton wanted to play volleyball at a high level, but the combination of athletics and academics at Bucknell was too good to pass up.
“I was being recruited by Cynthia Opalski, Bucknell’s coach at that time. I knew the school was incredibly strong academically, however, I was torn between attending a school with a powerhouse volleyball program or focusing on academics. After visiting Bucknell, I felt that the university could provide a top-notch academic experience while providing athletic opportunities in a growing program that I felt I could fit right in to.”
Wharton certainly did fit right in at Bucknell, and in her career from 1994-97 became one of the best players in school and Patriot League history. She helped the Bison reach the Patriot League Tournament title game twice and is holds the league record for career hitting percentage at .400. Wharton posted three of the top four single-season hitting percentages in Patriot League history, including a record .445 in 1995.
Wharton also holds the career League mark with 631 blocks and was named to the first-team All-Patriot League squad three consecutive seasons. The Bison won the Patriot League regular-season title in both 1995 and 1997, with a perfect 6-0 mark in League action in the latter year. The success Wharton helping bring to the program also helped the Bison get in position to win the Patriot League title in two of three years following her graduation.
But while the on-court accomplishments were significant for the 25th anniversary team member, Wharton’s experience at Bucknell went far beyond what shows up in the box score.
“There are so many memories from matches, Patriot League tournaments, travel and practices, but the athletic department at Bucknell helped to give me what I consider to be four of the best years of my life. They supported me unendingly, in so many ways, and continue to do so. They believed in me. They celebrated the accomplishments of the team and my personal accomplishments athletically and academically. The confidence and support that they poured into me helped shaped my character.
“I will also never forget singing the national anthem before all of our home volleyball matches!”
Wharton had a chance to continue her volleyball career after leaving Bucknell. She was invited to try out for the U.S. National Volleyball Team as well as the U.S. Professional Volleyball (USPV) Dream Team, which she made. She was amongf the 20 original team member.
“We frequently competed against and practiced with the U.S. Women’s National Team and competed against international opponents including but not limited to China, Japan and the Dominican Republic. I had the opportunity to be coached by some of the best, including Dr. Arie Selinger, Satoshi Matsunaga, Ping Cao and Haruya Indo.”
Wharton was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009, becoming just the second volleyball player to ever earn that distinction.
“That was an incredible honor and one of my proudest athletic accomplishments. To be a part of such a rich athletic tradition, alongside so many amazing people, at one of the greatest universities in world, is something that I will always truly cherish.”
And it wasn’t just Wharton’s experience in athletics at Bucknell that helped shape who she is today. She was a member of the Bucknell Gospel Choir, and embraced what the school had to offer in academics and social experiences.
“I enjoyed the friendships that I made and the many opportunities I had to participate in the music and other educational programs at the school. I enjoyed knowing that I was more than just a number to all of my professors. The class sizes were small enough that I communicated often with all of them and knew that I had their complete support.”