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Bucs, Gators join Dick Vitale’s crusade vs. pediatric cancer at Sarasota gala

The indefatigable ESPN college hoops analyst hopes to raise at least $5 million Friday.
Dick Vitale and hall-of-fame sportscaster Lesley Visser hug during his 2018 gala, annually held in Sarasota to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Dick Vitale and hall-of-fame sportscaster Lesley Visser hug during his 2018 gala, annually held in Sarasota to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Published May 6
Updated May 6

A month shy of his 82nd birthday, college basketball’s most recognizable voice still cries out passionately and persistently for a cause to which he has committed the last three decades of his life.

On Friday night, it will resonate throughout the the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota.

While the 16th annual Dick Vitale Gala, which benefits pediatric cancer research, will be modest (capped at 500 attendees due to the coronavirus) compared to recent years, Vitale’s goal isn’t.

He’s hoping to raise $5 million.

“We get $5 million, it means I won my national championship,” Vitale said on a recent video clip.

Here are a few things to know about this year’s celebrity-studded event.

Guest list includes Gators, Bucs

Former Gators quarterback Kyle Trask, drafted by the Bucs in the second round of the NFL draft last weekend, is set to attend Friday evening's Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota.
Former Gators quarterback Kyle Trask, drafted by the Bucs in the second round of the NFL draft last weekend, is set to attend Friday evening's Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota. [ Tampa Bay Times (2017) ]

Among those being honored will be Gators football coach Dan Mullen, Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt and former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw.

Also set to attend (according to Vitale): Bucs coach Bruce Arians and his newest quarterback, former Gator Kyle Trask; general manager Jason Licht; and Bucs Ring of Honor inductees Jimmie Giles and Mike Alstott.

Additionally, longtime ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen will receive the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award. Mortensen, 69, was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer more than five years ago, but returned to his gig in time for the 2017 draft.

The $35 million man

The V Foundation for Cancer Research (named in honor of legendary N.C. State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993) indicates the previous 15 Vitale galas have raised more than $35 million. Sponsorships range from $50,000 (which includes 20 seats at the banquet and 20 invitations to a private reception at the Vitale home) to $1,000. Those unable to attend still can make a donation or sign up to win autographed memorabilia. Just go to https://www.v.org/vitale or call 941-350-0580.

There IS crying in basketball

Dick Vitale stands with a group of pediatric cancer survivors at his annual fundraising gala in 2019. Vitale hopes to raise at least $5 million for pediatric cancer research at this year's event, set for Friday in Sarasota.
Dick Vitale stands with a group of pediatric cancer survivors at his annual fundraising gala in 2019. Vitale hopes to raise at least $5 million for pediatric cancer research at this year's event, set for Friday in Sarasota. [ JOEY KNIGHT ]

As sure as the sun sets off Sarasota’s coast, two things are sure to transpire Friday night: A.) Vitale will recite in detail the back story of the pediatric-cancer patients invited to his gala, and B.) he will weep as he speaks of those kids’ collective plight.

In 2017, an estimated 15,270 children ages 0-19 were diagnosed with cancer, according to the V Foundation. Moreover, the number of Americans who have had a cancer diagnosis is expected to rise to 19 million by 2025.

“What this event does is remarkable,” Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh said at the 2018 gala, where he was an honoree.

“Cancer is something that affects every family in the world, forever. Dick Vitale identified research and fundraising as the path (to a cure). What he’s accomplished in life … He’s hung the moon, really.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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