Home»Local News»‘Dancing’ star Louie Vito has history of giving to his parish and Bellefontaine

‘Dancing’ star Louie Vito has history of giving to his parish and Bellefontaine

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Friday, October 9, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

SPRINGFIELD DEANERY — 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.

In recent weeks, 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 hopeful who is currently appearing on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”

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Bellefontaine hometown boy Louie Vito. (Photo courtesy ABC-TV)

Wearing bright green T-shirts emblazoned with “Vote Vito” and armed with their cell phones to call in their votes each week, the audience applauds, cheers and whistles when Vito and his professional dance partner, Chelsie Hightower, appear on the big screen.

The couple danced a saucy rumba for the third week of the competition, making it through to dance the Texas two-step on the Oct. 12 show.

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.

Since they lived so close to the Mad River Mountain ski area, Lou Vito said his son knew by the age of five that he wanted to be a snowboarder.

“I told him that was fine,” Vito recalled, “and that we expected him to work hard and use the gifts God has given him.”

The younger Vito, who is now 21, 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 say their son was approached to appear on DWTS 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 DWTS fit right into Vito’s schedule. He spent the summer months training in Oregon and New Zealand and was planning to hit the gym, skateboard and do dry land training to keep fit. The DWTS season finale will take place before Vito’s Olympic trials start after Thanksgiving.

“Having this challenge on his mind is good for him right now,” Lou Vito said. “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.”

Because he spends so much time on the road, Vito hadn’t watched past seasons of DWTS, and he researched the show before he and Hightower began rehearsals.

“He felt it was a good opportunity to be an ambassador for the sport, to introduce snowboarding to the world and show that all kinds of people get involved in it,” explained his father.

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. The atmosphere of the show is “very friendly and supportive,” Judy Vito said. “Even Louie’s competitors are being helpful. Everybody is just so grateful to have the opportunity to appear on such a wonderful show. The people are happy, friendly, and everybody we’ve met is really as nice as they seem. It’s been a great experience for us and Louie.”

Watching her son dance has been “fun and exciting. He’s not taking himself too seriously and he’s able to laugh at himself. That’s important,” she added.

Mary Giannola, a friend of the Vito family and president of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Patrick, said Vito’s appearance on DWTS doesn’t surprise her at all. “He was such a nice kid and still is. He was always very active and had no fear.”

“I haven’t been a hardcore watcher of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ in the past, but I am this season,” she said. Giannola has been voting for Vito at the theatre, then stopping at work to cast her vote on the two office lines on the way home.

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Mary Giannola, Father Pat Sheridan and Anne Reames are gathered in the Holland Theater with the rest of Bellefontaine on Monday and Tuesday nights. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

Father 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.”

Watching Vito and Hightower, who is 20, dance, Father Sheridan said, “This is fun. It’s great entertainment. Louie has always been very athletic, and it shows.”

Anne Reames, pastoral assistant at St. Patrick added, “Louie just exudes joy as he’s dances. The judges have said that. You can just see his face light up. He’s making us so proud.”

The members of St. Patrick and Bellefontaine residents have come together not only to cheer on Vito, but to support a worthy cause. The proceeds from a five-dollar admission to watch DWTS’s live competition and results show at the theatre are being donated in Vito’s name toward the renovation of the historic structure. More than $4,000 has been raised to date, Reames said.

Giannola said it’s fitting that Vito’s dancing appearances are giving back to the Bellefontaine community because of the young man’s giving spirit. In 2007 he donated an autographed snowboard that was auctioned at the 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 St. Vincent de Paul and collected enough canned goods annually to feed several needy families for six months.

“It about a stewardship and gratitude,” Reames said. “Louie is using the gifts God has given him to give back to the community.”

The Vitos say it has always been a priority to teach their children the importance of gratitude and service to others. Because of Vito’s success and fame, they say it’s 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.”

She expressed her gratitude for the support from home as son continues his tenure on DWTS. “We’re so thankful to everyone who’s pulling for Louie and making such a big deal about. It’s overwhelming in such a good way and Louie’s thrilled.”

Judy Vito reminded Catholic Telegraph readers to vote for her son at 1-800-868-3406. The lines open at 8 p.m. EST and remain open until 30 minutes after the show ends. Viewers can also vote online at http://abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars.

“We need prayers too,” added Lou Vito. 

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