BELLEFONTAINE, Ohio (CNS) — On a recent Monday evening the historic Holland Theatre in downtown Bellefontaine was filled with enthusiastic local residents. But they weren’t there for a blockbuster movie premiere.
The Holland has become the place to be in Bellefontaine as townsfolk gather there on Monday and Tuesday nights to support hometown boy Louie Vito, the professional snowboarder and 2010 Olympic-medal hopeful who is currently appearing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Born in Columbus, Vito moved to Bellefontaine as a youngster, along with older sister Lindsay and parents Lou and Judy, who are active members of St. Patrick Parish. Lou Vito owns two radio stations in town, and his wife operates a Jazzercise franchise.
At the theater members of the audience – wearing bright green T-shirts emblazoned with “Vote Vito” – applauded, cheered and whistled when Vito, 21, and his professional dance partner, Chelsie Hightower, 20, appeared on the big screen Oct. 5 to dance a saucy rumba for the show’s third week of competition. The viewers were armed with their cell phones to call in their votes after the show.
Couples remain in the competition based on a combination of scores from the show’s judges and votes called in by viewers. The couple with the lowest combined score is eliminated. On Mondays ABC broadcasts the competition live; on Tuesdays “the results” show airs.
Vito and Hightower made it through to dance the Texas two-step on the Oct. 12 show. On Oct. 13 one couple was scheduled to be eliminated.
Lou Vito said his son knew by age 5 that he wanted to be a snowboarder – they lived close to the Mad River Mountain ski area.
“I told him that was fine,” his father recalled, “and that we expected him to work hard and use the gifts God has given him.”
The younger Vito attended the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he studied Latin for four years, as required by his parents. He turned pro in 2006. Upon graduation from high school he relocated to Utah to continue his snowboarding career.
The Vitos said their son was approached to appear on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2008, but initially declined because he felt he was a snowboarder, not a dancer.
“We encouraged him to go for an interview, though, because of the opportunity to meet new people and have new experiences,” Judy Vito said.
The timing wasn’t right then, but this season “Dancing” fit right into Vito’s schedule. The show’s finale takes place before his Olympic trials start after Thanksgiving.
“Having this challenge on his mind is good for him right now,” Lou Vito told The Catholic Telegraph, newspaper of the Cincinnati Archdiocese. “It’s keeping his mind off the Olympics. He’s using muscles he wouldn’t normally use in snowboarding, so that’s a benefit for him.”
Judy Vito praised her son’s willingness to “try something new, even though people could potentially make fun of him. He’s actually turned out to be a decent dancer. He was so willing to go outside his comfort zone, which makes me really proud.”
The Vitos have been flying to the West Coast every weekend to be part of the show’s Monday and Tuesday night audience. Judy Vito called it “a great experience” for them and their son.
Fr. Pat Sheridan, pastor of St. Patrick said, “Louie has always been extraordinarily outgoing and charitable. He’s a delightful young man, very respectful and a good son. All the notoriety hasn’t changed him at all. That’s his parents’ doing.”
Members of St. Patrick and Bellefontaine residents were gathering together not only to cheer on Vito, but to support a worthy cause. Proceeds from a $5 admission charged per person to watch the “Dancing” broadcasts at the theater will be donated in Vito’s name toward the renovation of the historic structure. More than $4,000 has been raised to date.
Louie Vito himself is known for a giving spirit. In 2007 he donated an autographed snowboard that was auctioned at the St. Patrick Parish festival. Five years ago, Vito organized Rail Jam, a snowboarding competition held at Mad River Mountain. He donated some $20,000 in prizes for the event, ensuring all participants received a gift.
The event raises more than $2,000 each year to benefit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and collected enough canned goods annually to feed several needy families for six months.
The Vitos said it always has been a priority to teach their children the importance of gratitude and service to others. Because of Vito’s success and fame, they said it has been critical to help him stay grounded.
“When he’s home or when we go to visit him, he’s still expected to pick up after himself,” Judy Vito said. “We’re very quick to remind him that everything’s a gift.”