Early Monday afternoon, Dick Vitale sat at a table outside Another Broken Egg — Lakewood Ranch to discuss some final details before his annual college tennis tournament gets underway Friday at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. The Dick Vitale Intercollegiate Tennis Tournament is the biggest fundraising event left on Vitale’s calendar before he opens his college basketball season by calling Michigan State’s game against Kentucky on Nov. 15 in New York, and this tournament is bringing in his biggest haul yet.
With the help of his friend Larry Wade, who helps organize the both the tennis tournament and the annual Dick Vitale Gala, Vitale has raised a record $90,000 through selling banners to advertisers for the three-day tournament. At least $70,000 of the money raised, Vitale said, will go to The V Foundation after money is taken out for expenses.
“There is no way we would’ve raised the $90,000 without the wonderful efforts from Larry Wade,” Vitale said.
Vitale will honor Wade during a party at his house Saturday night for coaches, players, and donors who went above and beyond the $500 minimum donation needed to post a banner at Lakewood Ranch Country Club. Fundraising is the priority at the tournament, which begins Friday and concludes Sunday, with all profits going into the John Saunders Grant for Pediatric Cancer Research. The $70,000 will push the Saunders Grant to nearly $140,000 — more than halfway to the $250,000 goal Vitale hopes to hit by the Vitale Gala in May.
People can donate to both The V Foundation in general and the Saunders Grant at dickvitaleonline.com. Vitale is hoping to raise $3 million for The V Foundation for cancer research by his gala.
“I beg and plead on my hands and knees for kids dying of cancer,” Vitale said.
“If a football team at an elite university wants to raise $15 million for a new football facility, locker rooms, equipment, it’s like this,” he continued, finishing with a snap of his fingers.
The field at this weekend’s clay-court tournament, Vitale hopes, is enough of a draw on its own. The men’s field features Louisville, Duke, Florida, South Florida, Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida, Navy, Princeton and George Washington. The women’s field has Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas Christian, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Florida, South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Princeton and San Diego State, whose roster includes Lakewood Ranch High School alumna Taylor Lederman. Tennessee’s women, which includes Lakewood Ranch’s Ashley Bongart, were also originally slated to play, but had to pull out due to injuries.
Play begins at 9 a.m. both Friday and Saturday, and at 10 a.m. on Sunday. All three days of competition are open to the public free of charge.
“People in this area will be treated to seeing some of the great college players,” Vitale said. “It’s hard to believe, right in our own area.”