More than 44 years after coaching his last college basketball game, Dick Vitale has won a national title.
Or at least his version of it.
The Hall of Fame college hoops broadcaster and indefatigable crusader for the plight of kids battling cancer announced his 16th annual gala raised $6.5 million for pediatric cancer research. The amount eclipsed his stated goal of $5 million, which he said would represent his “national championship” if raised.
“I am in absolute awe of all the people that responded in such a positive manner to assist us in raising $6.5 million for kids battling cancer,” Vitale said in a text message Sunday.
During a news conference prior to the gala, held Friday evening at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, Vitale wept as he expressed remorse for soliciting donations this past year amid a global pandemic.
Friday’s gala, which featured a limited capacity (approximately 500 guests) due to COVID-19 precautions, attracted such celebrities as Bucs coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht, former Gators quarterback (and Bucs second-round draft pick) Kyle Trask, tennis coaching icon Nick Bollettieri, WWE superstar (and local philanthropist) Titus O’Neil and USF athletic director Michael Kelly.
Gators football coach Dan Mullen, Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw and ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt were the evening’s honorees. A number of pediatric cancer survivors and their families also were recognized as Vitale’s special guests.
Items provided for a silent auction included an autographed Tom Brady Bucs jersey, an autographed jersey from the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, and a 49ers helmet signed by franchise legends Joe Montana and Dwight Clark.
“It’s an amazing night,” Arians said. “These kids play the Super Bowl every day to save their lives, and it’s great to help them.”
Since its inception in 2006, the gala has raised $44 million for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, according to Vitale. The 17th gala is set for May 6, 2022.
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