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Dick Vitale Gala Raises Record-Setting $4.3M For Cancer Research

Commentators, executives among those representing ESPN at annual fundraiser; V Foundation establishes pediatric research grant in Purdue fan Tyler Trent's memory

SARASOTA, Fla. – With a focus on pediatric cancer research, The Dick Vitale Gala benefitting the V Foundation is one of the most inspiring and emotional functions of the year and the 2019 version was record-setting.

Held Friday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the 14th annual event raised $4.3 million for cancer research, a figure that surpassed the previous high of $3.7 million (achieved last year).

The program included a significant ESPN contingent, highlighted by multiple honorees, emcee Kevin Negandhi, and special presentations. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro was joined on stage by V Foundation CEO Susan Braun and the family of Tyler Trent, the now-legendary Purdue fan whose story of courage and hope inspired millions.

Pitaro announced that the V Foundation would be establishing a grant in Tyler’s memory to support research in adolescent and young adult cancers. ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi, who documented Trent’s story on ESPN, was also on hand during the poignant presentation.

Pitaro told the packed ballroom of 900 people, “Tyler’s wish was to raise as much money as possible for his type of cancer so that other kids and families do not have to experience this horrendous disease.”

ESPN college football and tennis commentator Chris Fowler, a long-time on-air colleague of Vitale’s from his college basketball hosting days, was one of the three primary honorees.

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and long-time NBA and college basketball player and coach Avery Johnson were the other two.

Fowler, in sharing how much progress has been made since he lost his father to lung cancer decades ago, told the audience, “I am so deeply proud as an ESPN employee for what my company has been able to do … in helping the cause of cancer research.”

Rounding out the spirited evening was the presentation of John Saunders Courage Awards to ESPN College GameDay analyst Lee Corso and reporter Holly Rowe. Both were extremely touched by the honor, given in memory of their former ESPN colleague and long-time V Foundation Board Member.

In discussing her battle with cancer and the funding doctors like hers have received, Rowe told the crowd, “The V Foundation is helping people like me because this research didn’t even exist three or four years ago … I am absolutely committed to paying forward the blessings that I’ve had … I get to be here tonight because of the research dollars.”

In recounting the support he received following his speech-altering stroke in 2009, Corso said, “I want to thank ESPN for allowing me to do something I love. They could have dumped me when I couldn’t talk … but they gave me the chance.”

Of course, the relentless philanthropic efforts of Vitale and his wife Lorraine remain the driver of this event’s impact and success.

Each year, Vitale recognizes what he refers to as his “All Courageous Team,” a group of kids who are cancer survivors. Their stories are moving and memorable.

Emphatically capturing the mission of the evening, Vitale declared, “[In the time we are sitting here today] there are about 50 mothers and fathers who went to the doctor’s office and heard four words that no one ever wants to hear – ‘your child has cancer.’’’

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