Gala crowd smaller due to COVID-19, but Dick Vitale remains just as passionate

SARASOTA – COVID-19 brought about several noticeable changes on Friday night at the 16th annual Dick Vitale Gala.

Employees of the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, stood at the entrance with boxes of masks. For the press conference prior to the event, the seats of Vitale’s “All-Courageous Team” of childhood cancer survivors were placed an appropriate distance from each other. And because of the pandemic, the number of guests was limited to half the normal attendance.

But one thing didn’t change. Never will.

Vitale’s passion for children fighting cancer.

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Scott Van Pelt witnessed it as a first-time Gala attendee. The ESPN anchor was one of four honorees, who joined Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, Florida soccer coach Dan Mullen, and former Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, looking like 81-year-old Vitale, who made it his ‘toughest year,’ “shed tears.

“I can’t stop it.”

The ESPN college basketball analyst and resident of Lakewood Ranch often gets emotional when he talks about the toll cancer takes on the children who suffer from it, and, as Vitale said, “life-changing for the family and everyone involved.” But these tears were for the people who, again, came for Vitale with donations towards his $ 5 million cause for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Vitale, who called the evening his “national championship,” made it to that number and surpassed it, as more than $ 5 million had been counted by the night’s end. The 16 galas have now raised more than $ 42 million for childhood cancer research.

Earlier, Pearl had referred to Vitale’s stubborn persistence by saying, “So Dick is calling. And calls. And call. ‘

But with the pandemic that forced many to tighten their wallets, and with the reduced attendance at this year’s Gala cutting deep into the gist of the event – a table of eight costs $ 10,000 – Vitale had no choice but to take it. turn up the heat.

In tears he said he was sorry.

“Begging and begging for dollars because of the pandemic,” Vitale said. “I want to apologize to so many people.” He was referring to a note he had received from a parent: “Please keep doing what you are doing,” it said. “Because I don’t want to be one of the moms and dads who put on suits and go to a funeral for my child.”

“The stories I hear,” said Vitale. “A lot of people just don’t get it. They don’t understand that (childhood cancer) strikes and it’s cruel what it does. People are constantly praising me like they did here. I don’t deserve that praise.”

Van Pelt begs to disagree.

“He’s one of the one,” he said. “There is no one like that man. Many of you, including myself, have come to know him because of basketball. But his legacy in the world is not basketball. It’s this. It’s tonight. It’s his special passion.

‘I have no idea what I’m being honored for. I don’t feel worthy, but I feel moved and honored to be here and lend my voice, my time, and my support to this cause. Five million dollars. That’s what Dick wants to come up with and I’m here to do everything I can to make sure the number starts with the five. ‘

Pearl said it was important to him that Vitale respected him as a basketball coach. But more than that, if I could earn Dick Vitale’s respect as a man. As someone who also wants to try to make a difference. Not at the level of what Dick does. ‘

Vitale said, “It’s something very important to me.”

With attendees cut in half, a household name for Tampa Bay Buc fans arrived wearing his trusty red Gatsby cap. Bruce Arians looked as relaxed as any head coach of a winning Super Bowl team.

The evening was about kids with cancer, but right now Arians were talking about the pressure-free environment Buc’s second-round pick Kyle Trask will enter. “I don’t think there is any doubt,” he said. ‘There is no immediate pressure on him. Come in and learn, keep improving fundamentally, get to know the system, so that he is ready when he is ready. ‘

And that alleged knock Trask can’t get the ball down?

“I’ve seen him throw the ball to the field,” Arians said, “and he throws it really, really good. When we got Tom (Brady) last year, he was done. He couldn’t throw it 20 yards. The same goes for Kyle. He can make any throw in our offense. “

Arriving at the Gala a short while after his head coach, Trask believes he will easily fit into Arians’ onslaught. “I think their system complements my gameplay and I have shown it on game film,” he said.

Trask also can’t wait to learn the position from arguably the best to play it. “(Brady) is the best of all time. To have that knowledge around you, I’m just going to try to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can.”

Then it was time for Kyle Trask to enter the Ritz and learn firsthand the passion of Dick Vitale.

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