ESPN SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt paid tribute to father and former NFL football player Todd Heap and his daughter, Holly, during his “One Big Thing” segment last week. Holly died in April after a heartbreaking accident in the Heap family driveway. The Heap family celebrated Hugs for Holly Day on what would have been Holly’s fourth birthday last week.
Van Pelt explained that his own daughter Lila is about to turn 4 and this, combined with other factors, caused the story to hit close to home for the news anchor.
“The impossibly sad details of the freak accident that took her life, the fact that my daughter turns 4 around the same time, combined with me being an emotional person, left me afraid to even attempt to talk about,” Van Pelt said. “Then I talked with Todd Heap. It’s a conversation I won’t ever forget.”
Heap, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told Van Pelt he and his family were on their way to drop off some things at a hospital's children’s oncology department. He said the idea for a day in his daughter’s honor came from family friend Jenna McDowell, who traveled from California to be with the family after the accident. Heap told Van Pelt how much the response to Hugs for Holly Day, including messages that came from as far away as Scotland and China, meant to him.
“He kept using words like ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ to describe the day they should’ve been blowing out candles,” Van Pelt said. “It’s a reservoir of strength and grace that I am not familiar with because I’m not equipped with it.”
As Heap expressed his gratitude, Van Pelt said he wanted to say something helpful, but instead he ended up crying.
“So we both did, but we smiled too and we talked about the things that matter, like love and family and faith and the things that don’t die even when we do,” Van Pelt said before extending his own invitation. “I don’t do this much because your faith is your business, but whatever it is that you believe, if you’d keep a good thought for the Heap family, if you’d do something nice for a little girl that you never knew, it seems like that would be a decent thing to do.”