Alan Dell

Commentary | Dick Vitale raises record $2.38 million, directs attention to next year

Dick Vitale is back to ground zero Sunday, his coffers bare and his army ready for another year of battle.

The 10th annual Vitale Gala on Friday night was a slam dunk, but it's time to move on. There are lives to save and families in need of hope.

Vitale's cavalry of cancer warriors raised a personal-record $2.38 million during the past 12 months for pediatric cancer research.

The effort culminated with the gala, and now Vitale is putting together plans for 2016.

He is already getting the word out that next year's honored guests will be Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan and Robin Roberts from Good Morning America.

The $2.38 million brought the total Vitale's 10-year-old organization has raised for the V Foundation to $15 million.

It's hard to raise money in economic times that are not the greatest, but Vitale keeps increasing the ante; his is an obsession that should go unchecked.

Unlike coaches who get to enjoy the fruits of their victory following a championship season, Vitale and his generals, Mary Kenealy and wife Lorraine, don't get to rest on their laurels.

Coaches get another opportunity if they lose a big game.

In Vitale's world, there are no second chances and rest is a luxury no one can afford; a child cannot be replaced.

As a famous ESPN college basketball analyst, Vitale is known for his verbal skills. He never runs out of things to talk about, and his energy is boundless. But in the world of fundraising, you need more.

"There are so many great organizations that people are being hit with. But now I think we have established great visibility and great exposure, and that helps tremendously," Vitale says. "Ours is so emotional because it touches real people and kids and that makes it a little easier to sell. But the numbers I am shooting for are off the charts."

To get the money Vitale wants, you have to get inside people's hearts, and he does an excellent job at that because he speaks from his own heart. There is no phoniness. When a family whose child is stricken with cancer contacts him, Vitale does more than make an obligatory phone call. He gets involved.

He also is not ashamed to beg and will sell anything believing that those quarters and dimes he gets from selling basketballs, pictures and sports memorabilia can add up.

"You cannot raise $2 million net without working constantly. I do a lot of motivational speaking, and that has helped," Vitale says. "But it's constantly doing things. We had a party at the Main Street Trattoria in Lakewood Ranch and raised about $20,000, and all of that was thrown into the pot. Mathematically, it won't happen without that."

This year, basketball coaches John Calipari of Kentucky, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Michigan State's Tom Izzo made significant contributions as did former Ohio State football player Rob Sims, though he is a current free agent.

There were at least five families at the gala who lost their children to cancer. Their stories help raise money for others. Everyone wants this to end.

In recent years, we lost 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth and Lakewood Ranch's Eddie "Superman" Livingston, who was 5.

This is blue-collar stuff, chasing down people to buy a book or a watch or a picture or a towel.

"I will beg and beg. I have no shame when it comes to asking for money that will help these kids. If you believe in what you are selling, people will believe," Vitale says.

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

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