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ESPN analyst Dick Vitale made lifelong friend by reaching out to help charitable cause

(Larry Vaught Photo)

By Larry Vaught

Jennifer Heist has been a Kentucky basketball and football fan since she was a “little bitty girl” and admits there were times she might have “cussed him” a few times when Dick Vitale was the ESPN analyst on a Kentucky basketball game.

That will never happen again,” Heist said Wednesday. “The first person I hear criticize him, I will say, ‘Leave him alone. He’s precious.’ He’s made a lifelong fan and friend in me. If he finds his way to Kentucky any time, he’s going to get a special tour of the distillery. If we have a new bottle of bourbon, he will get it.”

Heist’s husband, Dr. Pat Heist, is one of the co-founders of Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville. Their son, Jacob Heist, is a senior football player at Boyle County High School who had his first epileptic seizure when he was in the sixth grade. Each year Boyle’s seniors sell T-shirts to raise money for a charitable cause. This year it is the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana.

Vitale read Jennifer Heist’s account of her son’s first seizure and the emotional journey it has been for him to get to his senior football season. He saw her phone number listed as the contact to order T-shirts, so he called her.

Of course, she almost didn’t take the call.

I saw it was a Florida number and thought it was a telemarketer. I wasn’t going to answer but then thought since I was selling T-shirts, maybe I should answer,” she said.

He told her who he was. She didn’t believe him.

He said, ‘Awesome Baby,’ and I knew then I was talking to Dick Vitale,” Heist said. “I cried as we talked. But I was like a little girl listening to him say ‘Awesome Baby.’ I was in complete awe and shock. He said he was sorry for making me cry but they were tears of joy.

He was just so nice. I called my oldest daughter and her boyfriend who is huge sports fan and told him I just got a call from Dick Vitale,” Heist laughed and said. “I was on my way to pick up my niece in Somerset when he called. I was driving so I could not text but my car phone was going off. My 12-year-old daughter was with me and didn’t get who Dick Vitale was. But I think I called everybody I knew to tell them.”

Vitale not only spent time talking to her and encouraging her son, but he also made a sizable donation to the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana.

How excited was Jennifer Heist? She’s been on Twitter since February, 2018. Before Wednesday, she had tweeted 18 total times. On Wednesday she tweeted twice and retweeted four more tweets

I have never really understood Twitter but from now on I will,” she said. “I just wanted to thank him. I was so star struck talking to him and got so emotional. I am kind of embarrassed now. But this means so much to me and to Jacob. When I told him that Dick Vitale said he was ‘awesome baby’ he was speechless. He couldn’t say anything.

I cannot express my appreciation truly from a mother’s standpoint for every single person who has tweeted, retweeted or shared a post to bring this to light and share this story. The last couple of days I have been bombarded by T-shirt orders. But Jacob said, ‘Momma, we want to outsell all those other senior classes but no matter what no other senior class got a phone call from Dick Vitale.”

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