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East County Wednesday, May 5, 2021 6 months ago

Gala's guest offers pearl of wisdom

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Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

At the 2008 Dick Vitale Gala, Bruce Pearl — then the men's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee — had the honor of introducing one of that year's honorees, Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, who was the leader in wins for NCAA Division I women's basketball coaches at the time of her 2012 retirement (1,098). 

Pearl said he felt the power of the gala room. He saw all the good that the evening did, as Vitale and company raised $1.2 million that year in its fifth year of existence. And as he was leaving the event, his wife, Brandy Pearl, turned to him and said, "Maybe you'll be an honoree someday." 

"Yeah, right," Pearl said to her.

I bet Brandy Pearl is feeling good about her prediction. 

Pearl, now the men's basketball Coach at Auburn University, will himself be honored at the 2021 Dick Vitale Gala, to be held May 7 at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. He will be honored alongside University of Florida football Coach Dan Mullen, former University of Notre Dame women’s basketball Coach Muffet McGraw and ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt. The event raises money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, specifically pediatric cancer research. Vitale has stated that this year's event has a goal to raise $5 million. 

Auburn University men's basketball Coach Bruce Pearl will be honored at the 2021 Dick Vitale Gala. Photo courtesy Shanna Lockwood/Auburn Athletics.

Like Vitale, Pearl is committed to fighting cancer. In 2007, when Pearl was at Tennessee, his Volunteers lost to Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament. After the game, Tennessee junior guard Chris Lofton, the Southeastern Conference's all-time leader in 3-pointers made (431), was given a random drug test per NCAA protocol. His testosterone levels were, according to Pearl, off the charts. The team knew immediately that something was wrong. That something turned out to be testicular cancer. 

"Chris didn't want anyone to know what was happening," Pearl said. "He didn't want to hear taunts about it from opposing fans. So he played through his treatments. When he started his senior season, he struggled a little, and it was sad to see writers and fans criticize him. You wanted to say, 'Shut up, the kid's fighting cancer, he's a little fatigued,' but you couldn't." 

Lofton would eventually make a full recovery, and finished his senior season strong. The fight that he showed while fighting cancer alone inspired Pearl, and the way his cancer was caught, via random testing, made Pearl think about the importance of regular screenings. In 2009, Pearl started the OUTLIVE program, which seeks to raise awareness for cancer prevention and detection while also raising money for families affected by the disease. The program followed Pearl to Auburn, where it is now known as the AUTLIVE program. Pearl has also donated to cancer-related causes outside of the program, like funding new chemotherapy coves at the Tennessee Medical Center. 

When Vitale told Pearl he wanted to honor Pearl at the 2021 gala, Pearl cried.

"I'm hungry, but I'm humble," Pearl said. "I'm nobody from nowhere. To be honored on the same night as the others in this group means a lot." 

Pearl said he plans on making up most of his speech on the fly, though he will be sure to thank everyone in attendance for their contributions to the cause. He also said to expect lots of Auburn connected people in attendance. Pearl said he's proud of the way his school has embraced the night and the cause as something special. He also said he's constantly impressed with Vitale's dedication to the fight. 

"You hear his passion on TV and you think 'Wow, he has such enthusiasm when the light goes on," Pearl said. "Then you meet him and you realize that the light is always on for him. He's always that passionate, especially about his family and about stopping cancer."

To donate money or for more information, visit v.org/vitalegala or call 350-0580. 

 

 

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I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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