Behind The ScenesGiving Back

Record-setting Vitale Gala salutes ESPN colleagues

SARASOTA, Fla. — Memorable moments were in abundance here Friday during the 12th annual Dick Vitale Gala to benefit The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Hosted by Dick and wife Lorraine Vitale, the event has become one of the most impactful and inspiring of its kind, with more than 900 in attendance including 100 celebrities from sports and entertainment.

More than $3 million was raised, a Gala record, and attendees needed to look no further than the Gala stage to recognize the significance of the cause. During the event, Vitale gathered a group he refers to as his “All-Courageous Team” — children, all cancer survivors, who have battled or continue to battle various forms of the disease. Additionally, the enormous impact of cancer on the lives of honorees West Virginia Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Huggins and Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was evident throughout their poignant speeches.

Finding greater perspective is an inevitable and positive element that results from the Gala experience, and the absence of two of Vitale’s long-time ESPN colleagues helped achieve it.

Former ESPN anchor John Saunders, a close friend of Vitale’s and a V Foundation board member since its inception, had been an active part of the Gala annually, including serving as the event’s emcee in prior years. Saunders’ passing in August 2016 meant this would be the first Gala without him. SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi paid tribute to Saunders and presented John’s daughters, Aleah and Jenna, with a check for The V Foundation in their dad’s memory.

Besides Huggins and Kelly, the third honoree at this year’s Gala was scheduled to be legendary ESPN commentator Chris Berman, who was on the minds of all attendees following the tragic car accident that took the life of Berman’s wife Kathy just three days prior to the Gala. Long-time ESPN commentator Chris Fowler captured the feelings of many when he delivered a moving Berman tribute, before introducing former ESPN President George Bodenheimer, who accepted the honor on Berman’s behalf (see video above).

Bodenheimer shared the news of Berman’s plans to donate $130,000 to pediatric cancer research in Saunders memory and also spoke of the significance of the amount. It starts with a round number of $100,000 plus $1,000 for each year Berman got to work with Saunders (30).

The event has now raised more than $21 million in its 12-year history.

Samantha Baron produced the video.

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