Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
At the 2018 Dick Vitale Gala, all anyone could talk about was how tirelessly Vitale works to fight pediatric cancer.
The 13th-annual gala, which was held May 11 at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, was star-studded as always, and honored University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, Florida State University men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton and ESPN television host Mike Greenberg. I talked to Greenberg about his admiration for Vitale in March, and at the gala, the other two honorees followed suit.
Harbaugh said Vitale is attacking pediatric cancer “with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” adding that Vitale should be on the “All-Humanitarian team.” Harbaugh said his first thought when he found out he was to be honored was that there were people more deserving than him, but also that he felt privileged to rally alongside Vitale for the cause.
“What this event does is remarkable,” Harbaugh said. “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.”
Hamilton said he has felt the effects of cancer as much as anyone, having lost five immediate family members to cancer. His voice broke while talking about the gala.
“It’s an honor to be able to participate,” he said, “and I’m in. I’m in Dick’s life. I’m so happy he gave me the opportunity to be a part of this, because I’m going to be a soldier for the cause. I can’t think what it must be like for a child, to be affected (by cancer). We have a lot of work to do.”
This year’s gala raised $3.7 million for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, bringing the total amount raised over the event’s 13 years to more than $25 million. Everyone from presenters to guest attendees echoed the honoree’s sentiments about Vitale, lauding his passion and the work he’s done.
Everyone, that is, except Vitale.
“Everybody tells me everywhere I go, ‘Oh, you’re doing a great job, Dick, unbelievable. Keep it up, you’re an inspiration.’ Give me a break,” Vitale said. “I’m not doing a great job. If I was doing a great job, we wouldn’t be giving out grants tonight … We’d have a cure.”
While I respect that attitude … apologies, Dick, because I’m going to add to your praise pile. The war against cancer is one that humanity hasn’t been able to win yet. That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate winning a battle, no matter how small.
Vitale’s contributions to the cause sometimes seem less remarkable because of how often they occur, but it’s high time we start thinking about them on more than just gala nights. Raising $25 million dollars in 13 years makes a difference. It has made a difference for the members of his “All-Courageous Team” of kids who have fought both their own afflictions and helped others fight theirs, including Lakewood Ranch’s Jake Taraska. Those kids serve as an inspiration to others, and Vitale to them.
No, the war isn't over yet, but Vitale's determination has society closer to a cure than it would be otherwise. Vitale said he's going to continue to fight "until (his) last dying breath," and if donations keep coming, it's possible that the medical field will have seen a real breakthrough soon. It’s time we all join the fight, because as Vitale said, we’re all on the team in this one. I for one don’t want to be left on the sidelines.
Vitale's next gala will be held on May 10, 2019, at the Ritz-Carlton, and will honor Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney, University of Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson and ESPN college football broadcaster Chris Fowler.
I can’t wait to see how Vitale makes it his biggest event yet.