For Wisconsin teen, landing prom date with Le'Veon Bell 'means the world'

PITTSBURGH -- Ava Tarantino called her shot.

Back in 2014, Tarantino requested a Twitter follow from Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, her favorite player. Once Bell obliged, Tarantino followed up with a direct message that she would invite him to prom one day.

"He just didn't know when," said Tarantino, now 17 and a Steelers fan since childhood.

About three years and 2,000 retweets later, Tarantino has her prom date -- and the Waukesha West High School hallways buzzing. What started as a fun back-and-forth between fan and athlete Saturday night has turned the May 13 dance into a prime-time event for Waukesha, a town outside Milwaukee.

The power of social media: Tarantino told Bell on Twitter that he will accompany her to prom if her message gets 500 retweets. Bell countered with "600 & it's a deal." Tarantino's notifications mushroomed by the minute until she more than tripled her total.

Bell tweeted that he would see her at prom, and has since confirmed with Tarantino the date of the prom and his plans to bring his family, including his mother and girlfriend, who's tentatively scheduled to do Tarantino's makeup.

"People (at school) were asking me all day, 'Is he really coming? Is this for real,'" Tarantino told ESPN by phone Monday. "Everyone was talking about it. I said, 'You'll just have to find out.' But we've already started talking about what happens."

Apparently the school district will have its say. WISN-ABC reports Waukesha has an age limit of 19 for such events, but the district is reviewing its policy in light of Bell's potential attendance.

The Tarantino family doesn't seem worried.

"I think it's the real deal," said Jim, Ava's father, about the chances of this happening. "She's beyond excited."

High school football is a big deal in Waukesha, which won a state title in 2010. But for Tarantino, the connection to Bell transcends yardage. For one, her mother went to Michigan State, where Bell was an all-Big Ten performer.

Then Tarantino met Bell during a family trip to a Steelers game in 2014, around the time she sent that first Twitter message. He was gracious, stopping in the team hotel to say hello and take pictures. Tarantino draws inspiration from Bell's social media messages on determination and work ethic.

Ava has attended Steelers games since age 4. Her father says he got "hooked" on the black and gold once Franco Harris spoke to his high school class decades ago.

"It means the world to me," Ava Tarantino said about Bell's RSVP. "If you ask anyone who knows me, I look up to him for everything, mainly motivation."

Once the sentiment wears off, Tarantino must get serious. She's got a prom to plan, and the first task is crucial.

"I have to start looking for a dress," she said. "I'm looking at yellow dresses, or possibly black. I have to keep with the Steelers theme."