Commentary | Lacey Holsworth will inspire again at Dick Vitale Gala

adell@bradenton.comApril 27, 2014 

Lacey Holsworth, 7, smiles from her seat last year while accompanied by Michigan State basketball player Adreian Payne, left, and her parents Matt and Heather Holsworth during a news conference at the Eighth Annual Dick Vitale Gala Benefiting The V Foundation at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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Sometimes you can't tell the difference between tears of joy and tears of sorrow.

Those are the moments when you know your life has been impacted.

They don't come often, but at the annual Dick Vitale Gala, they will be in abundance.

Those in attendance will cry and laugh and go home believing their life is not so bad. They will give their children a second look and be thankful.

They will think of Lacey Holsworth and the other kids who have spent nearly half of their young lives trying to stay alive in their fight against cancer.

Holsworth's smile and courage made America fall in love with her.

She was the star of last year's Dick Vitale Gala and the shining light that led the Michigan State basketball team to the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

At this year's gala, she will again provide inspiration. It will be in memory only, but still powerful.

Known as Princess Lacey, she lost her life to cancer last month at the age of 8.

The ninth Vitale gala, slated for May 16 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, will attract celebrities from throughout the sports world.

The list of guests includes Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith and Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher.

It's an all-star lineup filled with surefire hall of famers. But none will have the impact made by Lacey and the other kids who are part of Vitale's army of hope.

At last year's gala, Lacey's smile and spirit were non-stop. You would've never known she was in a fight for her life and had been unable to walk for a period of time when tumors wrapped around her spine and kidney.

Vitale will award special grants in memory of Lacey and Lakewood Ranch's Eddie Livingston, who lost his life to cancer last November at the age of 5 after a two-year battle.

"There is no way we can let these kids die in vain," Vitale said. "No one can imagine what a family goes through when this happens to them. What we can do is raise money to further cancer research so doctors can find a cure. Lacey brought the house down with her spirit and courage last year."

The net proceeds will go to fund pediatric cancer research. The V Foundation's Scientific Advisory Committee will determine where the grant money goes.

The gala is sold out, but Vitale reminds everyone they can still make a donation by going to his website (dickvitaleonline.com) or the V Foundation.

"When Lacey lost her battle, I promised her father I would keep her spirit alive by raising $250,000 in her honor for a pediatric cancer research grant. I am determined to do it for Lacey's family and all the families facing this dreaded disease," Vitale said.

The Vitale Gala raised more than $1.7 million for pediatric cancer research last year, bringing the event's total to more than $10 million in its eight-year history.

A lot of these kids struggled in anonymity until Vitale put them on the front lines, where their heroics touched the lives of many adults giving them their own personal sense of courage. One of the most popular photos was Eddie "Superman" Livingston unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a Superman uniform.

Lacey had more than 40,000 Twitter followers; she had become a national symbol of hope. All she wanted to do was have fun and watch her Michigan State basketball team.

The gala is an extension of the Jimmy V Foundation that was started in part by Vitale after the death of former N.C. State head basketball coach Jimmy Valvano in 1993.

"I know Jimmy V would be thrilled that these personalities from the world of sports are donating their time and effort to be with us," Vitale said. "We are blessed that they are willing to help make Jimmy V's dream of battling cancer a reality of utilizing their celebrity status to raise funds for cancer research."

The gala will honor Saban, Notre Dame head basketball coach Mike Brey and Indiana head basketball coach Tom Crean.

Among those expected to attend are Kentucky head coach John Calipari and other head basketball coaches: Sean Miller (Arizona), Archie Miller (Dayton), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Jim Larranaga (Miami), Steve Alford (UCLA), Herb Sendek (Arizona State), Joe Dooley (Florida Gulf Coast), Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Leonard Hamilton (Florida State), Mark Gottfried (N.C. State) and Fran McCaffery (Iowa). Hall of fame high school basketball coach Bob Hurley Sr. and his son, Bob Hurley Jr., former Duke All-American and current head coach at Buffalo, also will attend.

Expected local attendees include Nick Bollettieri, New York Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Lakewood Ranch, Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields from Booker and IMG head football coach and former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke.

"To my last breath, I will beg and plead for people to give money to this cause. We can't allow this to continue. I just learned today that we lost another in Dillon Simmons, a 14 year-old from Fort Myers. People have no idea how this affects families," Vitale said.

Alan Dell, Herald columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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