Vitale brings sports celebrities to Sarasota for cancer fight

adell@bradenton.comMay 17, 2014 

SARASOTA -- Dick Vitale was telling everyone in the audience to be the change you wish to see in the world. The man most noted for talking about jump shots and diaper dandies was giving a lesson on the power of love.

The college basketball television guru spoke his words to begin the Dick Vitale Gala on Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton.

It was the ninth annual gala for Vitale, but he showed the passion of a child on Christmas morning. He was hoping to raise $2 million on this night, with the money going toward pediatric cancer research under the V Foundation.

His talk caused a tsunami of emotions that overwhelmed the early arrivals. In the audience were the kids who were holding their own against cancer.

Then he spoke of the others who were not so fortunate.

Vitale choked on his words as he told of a letter a father wrote to his daughter who had recently died of cancer. He talked about the triumphs. He talked about the skirmishes that did not end so well.

Sitting next to him were college basketball coaches Tom Crean of Indiana and Mike Brey of Notre Dame and Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, all successful in their own right.

"Everybody realizes how cancer affects us all. I don't care if you are rich or poor or black or white," Vitale said. "It will bring you to your knees. It's unbelievable what we face, and my heart goes out to every youngster here and their parents. They are so courageous."

Vitale addressed each one of the cancer-fighting kids in attendance by name.

"They face their battle in the game life. We have all these great coaches, and they are all winners, but you are the stars of the night," Vitale told them.

The gala honored Eddie Livingston of Lakewood Ranch and Lacey Holsworth, who lost their lives to cancer. Two $250,000 grants for cancer research were awarded in each of their names.

"It's an honor for me to be here," Saban said. "There is not one person in this room who doesn't know someone in their family or a friend who has been affected by cancer, and that is the terrorist we face. To see young people suffer is especially hard. We get upset when little things go wrong or we lose a game, but we get another opportunity to play, and we get a chance to fix it."

Crean took Indiana to the Sweet 16 in 2012 and 2013 and made five NCAA Tournament appearances while at Marquette. He says those accomplishments pale to what was going on at the Vitale Gala.

"When I look at those kids, I feel for their families and their parents and can only imagine the peace of mind and joy they get from a weekend like this where they see their children happy," Crean said. "You see what Dick and his wife Lorraine bring to the table along with the V Foundation, and you never feel like you are doing enough. So to be here tonight is a great thing."

USF head football coach Willie Taggart starred at Manatee High and grew up a poor kid whose parents were local migrant workers. He considers himself fortunate that he has not lost any family members or friends to cancer but is strongly behind the cause.

"This event is important because you are trying to save people's lives, and you have someone like Dick Vitale who is so passionate that it's hard for you not be passionate. You just want to help the cause," Taggart said.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, who was in attendance with general manager Jason Licht and players Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Josh McCown, has fought cancer and other diseases on the front lines.

"We are one of the state teams, and we want to support this any way we can," Smith said. "My mom was a blind, deaf diabetic who passed away a few years back, and I have a sister who passed away from cancer, so there are a couple of causes that are dear to us. It affects a lot of families and anytime you can come out and help a great cause you want to do it."

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