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Dick Vitale continues raising millions for pediatric cancer research. This is his goal

Dick Vitale talk opens gala

Dick Vitale vows to keep the fight against cancer going
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Dick Vitale vows to keep the fight against cancer going

His passionate and energetic voice is synonymous with ESPN’s college basketball coverage and it’s led to plenty of accolades.

But what might turn out to be Dick Vitale’s lasting legacy is his work with the Jimmy V Foundation to raise money for cancer research, specifically his annual gala benefiting pediatric cancer research.

To date, Vitale’s gala has raised $25.2 million. This year’s gala, the 14th edition, has its eyes set on reaching a $4 million goal.

“When I started this, I started it because I love kids,” Vitale said. “I absolutely love kids, and I’ve developed an incredible relationship with many of these kids that we’re raising dollars for.”

Vitale, who is 79 and lives in Lakewood Ranch — a community stretching across Manatee and Sarasota counties along Florida’s Gulf Coast — isn’t just passionate about helping children, who are dealing with cancer.

He’s obsessed with it.

“I feel it, I believe it and I just hope and pray that we can deliver on the $4 million,” Vitale said.

On Friday, the 14th annual Dick Vitale Gala takes place at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Sarasota. It’s sold out. But people can donate any amount at any time through his website, dickvitaleonline.com.

The honorees this year are ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler, Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson and Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney. The John Saunders V Foundation Courage Award is going to ESPN broadcasters Holly Rowe and Lee Corso.

Vitale’s gala began when Nick Valvano, brother of Jim Valvano, was president of the V Foundation and called Vitale roughly 14 years ago.

Nick expressed how he knew how much Vitale and Jim meant to each other.

“And he said, ‘We’d like to give more awareness to the V Foundation,” Vitale said.

So Vitale ended up getting about 200 people at his house to spread the message of the V Foundation. After the success of that evening, Vitale took it a step further by having a big event at the Ritz-Carlton.

Vitale said what played a vital role in getting him really emotional into it all was going to Payton Wright’s funeral. Wright lost her battle with brain cancer at the age of 5 in 2007. There’s a non-profit foundation in her name.

“There are about 45 to 50 every day are hearing the doctors echo four words that no mom and dad ever, ever want to hear,” Vitale said. “.... They’re going to hear, ‘Your child has cancer.’ And those four words when echoed today are sending people home in a life-changing scenario.”

This year’s gala is once again is a sports hub as Vitale said Florida football coach Dan Mullen, FSU coach Willie Taggart, USF coach Charlie Strong as well as basketball coaches such as Georgia’s Tom Crean, UCF’s Johnny Dawkins, Texas Tech’s Chris Beard and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl as some of the celebrities attending.

They’ll also honor Tyler Trent, a Purdue superfan and former student who passed away from bone cancer earlier this year.

Last year, two research grants were distributed at the gala in memory of two children that lost their lives to cancer. One of them was Tony Colton, who Vitale visited in the hospital prior to his passing. Vitale made a promise to Colton.

“He said, ‘Don’t stop doing what you are doing,’” Vitale said. “I told him to my last dying breath, I’ll beg, I’ll plead and I’m going to do that.”

Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.
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