Popular anchor among those to be honored at May 7 event.
Scott Van Pelt never gets tired of hearing his name over the airwaves — at least when Dick Vitale is saying it.
"Oh, Maryland!" Van Pelt said, imitating the Hall of Fame broadcaster's iconic timbre. "Maryland! Scott Van Pelt, baby! I know he'll be happy!
"When you get name-checked during a game by Dick, it's the biggest thrill, knowing he knows who you are and is thinking about you."
It started after Van Pelt, a Maryland alumnus, joined ESPN in 2001. The Terrapins men's basketball team reached back-to-back Final Fours in 2001 and 2002, gaining national attention. Whenever Vitale would call a Maryland game, he'd be sure to shout out his colleague. It always brought a smile to Van Pelt's face.
Now, Van Pelt and Vitale are coming together to try to bring smiles to a lot of other faces. Van Pelt will be honored at the 2021 Dick Vitale Gala — to be held at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on May 7 — alongside University of Florida football Coach Dan Mullen, Auburn University men’s basketball Coach Bruce Pearl and former University of Notre Dame women’s basketball Coach Muffet McGraw. The annual event raises money for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, specifically pediatric cancer research.
Van Pelt said he believes Vitale selected him for the honor because of his experience with Tyler Trent, a Purdue University fan who died of osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, on Jan. 1, 2019, at the age of 20. Trent became a sensation within the sports world in 2018 when, during an ESPN feature, he correctly predicted Purdue football's upset of previously undefeated Ohio State. Trent would then guest on Van Pelt's edition of SportsCenter after Van Pelt learned Trent dreamed of appearing on the show. Van Pelt said Trent was an "incredible light." The segment ended with Van Pelt promising Trent a seat on the set whenever he wanted to return. He never got the chance.
"When he died, we closed our show the same way we did when [ESPN anchor] Stuart Scott died," Van Pelt said. "We saved him a seat. We left the set and we illuminated his chair.
"[Trent] left a mark on me. I feel such pain for that family. Whatever he got from me by being on the show, you get so much more back just by seeing the fight the young man had."
Van Pelt said he has a drawing that a fan made of Van Pelt and Trent hanging in his house. He looks at it every day, and it makes him think about Trent, and why they met, and what he can do to help those who need it.
When Vitale first asked Van Pelt to be an honoree at the 2020 gala, Van Pelt had to decline: the event fell directly on his daughter Lila's birthday. He made it work for 2021, though being honored is still a strange feeling for Van Pelt, who said he has trouble accepting praise. He didn't feel worthy of the honor, he said, but Vitale wasn't having any of it. Now that the day is approaching, Van Pelt is excited to be a part of the evening. He's never been to this particular event, but he's been to similar events, and he knows the power they have.
"I'm the auctioneer for the Tim Tebow Foundation's event," Van Pelt said. "I've been in these rooms where people want to help. When a room gets energized with sharing wealth, it's a life affirming thing. They get competitive with each other. Six figures becomes seven. You feel like you're helping. And this event in particular, raising money for pediatric cancer research, what else is there that we are supposed to do in this life? If you're capable of helping, you should leave this [world] better than it was when you arrived."
Van Pelt said he is constantly amazing by Vitale's passion for raising funds. He shared a story from the 2019 Sports Emmy awards, when Vitale was honored with a lifetime achievement award. Van Pelt and Vitale attended the same private after-party. Van Pelt said Vitale wasn't interested in talking about his award at the party. He wanted instead to talk about two things: his family, and his cause.
"What he does with his charity work is beyond my ability to process," Van Pelt said. "I think eventually, when they write his obit many years from now, he won't be known as the college basketball guy first, he'll be the pediatric cancer charity guy."
To donate money or for more information, visit v.org/vitalegala or call 350-0580.