Dick Vitale targets $2 million goal for annual gala to battle pediatric cancer

adell@bradenton.comMay 15, 2014 

Lakewood Ranch's Eddie "Superman" Livingston, who died in November at the age of 5, will be honored Friday during the ninth annual Dick Vitale Gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.PHOTO COURTESY DICK VITALE

SARASOTA -- Dick Vitale spent Monday inflating basketballs he will ask his celebrity guests to sign, hoping to turn their signatures into dollars.

For the past year, he has been hand-writing letters to potential donors pleading for them to help make his ninth annual Dick Vitale Gala a record-setting event Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton.

Sometime during the evening, images of Eddie "Superman" Livingston and "Princess" Lacey Holsworth will be shown on a large screen.

It's Vitale's way of paying tribute to two children who lost their lives to the disease and raise money for pediatric cancer research.

"Until my last breath, I will beg anyone who I learn can afford to help us," the 75 year-old Vitale said. "So many people have responded in a positive way. We are hoping to net $2 million after expenses. Last year, we hit $1.7 million, which was a record for us."

Vitale is upset because he says money for pediatric cancer has lagged behind other cancer research projects, something he can't understand.

"No kid should have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. They should be out playing ball or just having fun," Vitale says. "Everybody has been touched by cancer. It's an absolutely vicious disease. It's so difficult for the parents of these children. It's hard to work, and there is constant concern."

The gala is sold out with the patrons paying $1,000 for a seat at the dinner table. Vitale hopes to squeeze 870 people in for the dinner.

Some of the top sports celebrities in the country will be there. The gala will

honor basketball coaches Tom Crean of Indiana and Mike Brey of Notre Dame, along with Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

Crean and Brey are committed to giving $50,000 a year to the V Foundation, which oversees the gala. The foundation is named in honor of former N.C. State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, who lost his life to cancer in 1993.

The guest list includes top people from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including head coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jason Licht, quarterback Josh McCown and All-Pro defensive lineman Gerald McCoy.

"We had to turn celebrities down. We've had so many people who want to come," Vitale said. "I beg anyone for money and tell them they might be helping someone they love because you never know who and when this disease strikes."

The most important part of the night for Vitale will be honoring Lakewood Ranch's Eddie Livingston and Lacey Holsworth. He will award two $250,000 pediatric research grants each in their name. Eddie passed away last November at the age of 5. He had become a celebrity in his own right known for wearing Superman t-shirts in honor of the person he admired.

"For Dick Vitale to do this means a lot to me to and the families who have children with cancer," said his father. Craig Livingston. "It is very touching for him to choose Eddie to start a grant. We need the stars and people who are in the limelight to help. Only 4 percent of cancer research dollars are dedicated to the pediatric centers."

Eddie wasn't at last year's gala because he was undergoing treatment. However, he made the Superman T-shirts famous, and they serve as a special remembrance for the family.

Lacey Holsworth, who was a personal inspiration for the Michigan State basketball team, turned into a celebrity at last year's gala. She passed away April 8th at the age of 8 after a three-year battle with cancer.

"This means a lot to us and keeps the fight going to help children with cancer," said her father, Matt Holsworth, who will be at the gala with his wife, Heather. "We are so proud of her legacy. and it means a lot to us to be able to help other families who are dealing with this."

Longtime Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo praised Lacey on numerous occasions for her courage and how it buoyed the players.

"This little tiny girl, she wasn't that big, she wasn't that strong. But she sure was powerful," Izzo said. "She was an inspiration to all of us. Her message was don't ever give up on anything. When you face tough times like all of us will, make sure you just keep fighting through it."

Another special guest at the gala will be Jack Hoffman, the 8-year-old who is battling brain cancer. He made national headlines in April 2013 when he ran 69 yards for a touchdown in the Nebraska spring football game. He will be there with his father and Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini.

Hoffman, 7 at the time, won an ESPY award for the best moment in sports last year. His parents accepted the award, and then Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who handed Hoffman the ball, was in attendance.

People who cannot make it to the gala can make donations by going online to the V Foundation website, jimmyv.org.

"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 they are willing to help make Jimmy V's dream of battling cancer a reality by utilizing their celebrity status to raise funds for cancer research."

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