LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The last of 1,500 tickets sold out Thursday for the drawing for the new Mercedes, but there are plenty of ways left to participate in legendary coach Dick Vitale's May 17 gala to raise funds for pediatric cancer research.
After all, it's about the children.
That's what inspires the ESPN college basketball analyst and Lakewood Ranch resident, who has earned his way into 10 halls of fame for coaching and professional basketball. Nothing brings him to his knees like spending time with the children in the cancer wing at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
"It broke my heart -- all these little kids come up there," he said.
Vitale's grandchildren are between the ages of 7 and 11. "We see these kids, their mothers and fathers sitting there all day hoping for a miracle. We have five grandkids and we go to the beach. When we leave the hospital, we cry like babies."
Vitale's passion ignited in the battle against cancer when his colleague and friend, the late North Carolina State head coach and ESPN sportscaster Jim Valvano, lost his life to the disease in 1993. That was the start of the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Last year the gala raised $2.1 million, which Vitale intends to top this year.
"We've raised, in the first seven (years), a total of$8.7 million, so if we raise $1.3 million this year we will
hit the $10 million mark," Vitale said. "Our goal this year is to hit $10 million."
Celebrities confirmed for the event include Florida State University head football coach Jimbo Fisher, FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, new University of South Florida football coach and former Manatee High star Willie Taggart, and University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan, who will introduce Vitale.
Others include broadcaster Danny Kanell, who played quarterback for FSU and in the NFL; Southeast High and Florida State football star and former NFL receiver Peter Warrick; Marquette University basketball coach Brent "Buzz" Williams; FSU Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke, director of football operations at IMG; University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari; Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean; Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey; and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo.
"The bottom line is that we have all these superstars and all of them will be here for the event," Vitale said. "The post-gala show goes on with the Motown sound and the Temptations."
"It is the number one event in this area by far," said planning committee member Larry Wade of Wade Consulting, a Lakewood Ranch resident who comes from a 36-year career in clothing. The two men were at the Broken Egg Restaurant in Lakewood Ranch, where Vitale's books and products are on sale.
Another part of the fundraiser is the special auction of a new Mercedes E350A convertible.
"We'll make over $100,000 from that," said Vitale. Lakewood Ranch resident Saku Bangoura won last year.
"Our event sells out at the Ritz-Carlton, with 800 people at $1,000 per person. There are still a few tickets left."
To buy tickets or to make a donation, call 941-350-0580. For more information, go to dickvitaleonline.com.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.