From the sidelines
When Virginia Tech basketball coach Mike Young landed big fish Jalen Cone, he had a little help from one of the school’s biggest fans.
Eleven-year-old Dani Jo Hearl of Mt. Airy, North Carolina sat in the front row of Cone’s signing announcement earlier this month. She donned plenty of Virginia Tech gear and waiting patiently to see if the 4-star player would be coming to Blacksburg.
Hearl felt down deep it would happen.
She had reached out to Cone in April in a 30-second Twitter video, congratulating him on his offer from Tech. Hearl also stayed in contact with current players, recruits and member of the coaching staff even after the departure of Coach Buzz Williams to Texas A&M.
The youngster has congenital hypoventilation syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system that affects her breathing. Hearl has suffered from the ailment since birth and wears a ventilator.
Only an estimated 1,000 individuals worldwide suffer from CHS. She also suffers from Hirschsprung’s disease and daily seizures.
But her love for Virginia Tech basketball holds a strong connection to former coach Williams, though. She’s been a part of “Buzz’s Bunch,” the organization Williams founded as a way for youngsters with disabilities to enjoy the game of basketball helping them attend several events and camps in Blacksburg.
Her mentor at one of the camps was Devin Wilson, who til this day Hearl still communicates and calls a friend.
Hearl had sent Williams’ several similar Twitter messages over the past two years, and like several other people, she hated to see him go to Texas. But now, she has embraced the new coaching staff and felt it was her responsibility to reach out to Cone.
Cone even attended one of Hearl’s Special Olympic competitions in April. He told onlookers it meant a lot to have her at his announcement. Current Hokie players, Isaiah Wilkins and Brendan Palmer, were also there.
The relationships Hearl has established seems to be good both for her and the players themselves.
The Hokies and newest Hokie are making a difference off the court.
Hearl has met Coach Young, and s photo from the meeting hangs on Hearl’s poster board in her bedroom.
Her videos can be found at the Twitter account @HearlFamily. Keep up the good work young lady. Now we need a few players over 6-10. Can you recruit a few for us here in Blacksburg?