Monday, May 9, 2011

Vitale, coaches team up to fight kids' cancer

Less than two months ago, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Kentucky's John Calipari were battling to advance to the NCAA Final Four. May 20, they - as well as scores of other NCAA basketball coaches, pro athletes and celebrities - will come together to help kids who are battling cancer.

Williams and Calipari, whose teams will likely be ranked 1-2 in the polls come next fall, will be two of the guests of honor at the sixth annual Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota, Fla. The goal, again, will be to raise more than $1 million for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. The event - which includes 800 tickets at $1,000 apiece - has sold out; but people can donate by logging on to or calling 1800-4JIMMYV.

" We compete against each other all season, we recruit against each other, but now we also come together to do something special,'' Williams said last week. " ... And I hope this will raise a lot more money for an important cause."

Williams, who lost both his parents to cancer, has helped raise more than $1.3 million over the years for UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center with his season-opening Fast Break for Cancer Breakfast. This will also mark his third trip Vitale's gala.

"I've been there twice," Williams said, "and I'm not ashamed to say, I cried twice."

Vitale, a long-time ESPN commentator, gets choked up, as well, when he talks about his event. A board member of the V foundation, he said his passion to raise money for pediatric cancer research was ignited when his neighbors, Patrick and Holly Wright, lost their daughter Payton to cancer in 2007.

"You see these sick little kids, 5, 6, 4 [years old] and it crushes you - these kids all have brain tumors, leukemia, tumors on the spine, and it just crushes you,'' Vitale said. "You think about coaches worried about winning games, and these kids are fighting for their lives."

Tennis legend Nick Bollettieri will join Williams and Calipari as a guest of honor. (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has been honored at the Gala in the past.) Other attendees this year include Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, Florida's Billy Donavan, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, recently-retired Maryland coach Gary Williams, and the three other coaches who joined Calipari in the Final Four: Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Butler's Brad Stevens, and VCU's Shaka Smart.

The celebrity guests all pay their own expenses, and some make a personal donation.

Since 2006, Vitale's Gala has raised more than $3.65 million for The V Foundation, which was founded in 1993 by the late N.C. State coach Jim Valvano and ESPN. Another way fans can chip in to Vitale's million-dollar-plus goal is by purchasing his children's book, "Dickie Vs ABCs and 1-2-3s: A Great Start for Young Superstars," for $14.95. Vitale is donating all of his proceeds from the book to pediatric cancer research.

Williams and Vitale expect May 20 to be a memorable night.

"Both Roy and John Calipari have been good to us over the years ... and with Carolina and Kentucky being the two winningest programs, we just thought that would make the event exciting, and draw a lot of interest,'' Vitale said. "The most important thing about this is raising money, and we really appreciate the fans' support in trying to fight cancer in children."

-- Robbi Pickeral