MARK LONG,AP Sports Writer
Dick Vitale’s fight against cancer is nearing a major milestone.
Vitale expects to top the $10 million mark with his eighth annual celebrity gala in Sarasota, Fla., on Friday night.
The event will honor former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, former Connecticut basketball coach/cancer survivor Jim Calhoun, and Kansas basketball coach Bill Self.
The gala raises money for the V Foundation in honor of the late Jim Valvano. Net proceeds go to pediatric cancer research.
“It should be really, really special,” Vitale said in a phone interview Thursday. “It has gone way beyond my dreams.”
More than 70 sports celebrities are scheduled to attend, including Florida coach Billy Donovan, Indiana coach Tom Crean, Kentucky coach John Calipari, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Miami coach Jim Larranaga, Villanova coach Jay Wright and Florida State coaches Jimbo Fisher (football) and Leonard Hamilton (basketball). The guest list also includes former major leaguer Gary Sheffield, former NFL running back Ricky Watters and 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.
Vitale has a few special guests planned, too.
He will have Michigan State junior forward Adreian Payne and his friend, 7-year-old Lacey Holsworth, in attendance. Holsworth has cancer and is scheduled to have a bone-marrow transplant soon. She has become close with Payne over the past year and met Vitale before the Indiana-Michigan State game in February.
“She just got clearance to join us,” Vitale said. “I guarantee there won’t be a dry eye in the place.”
Vitale also is flying in the parents of Justin Miller, who died April 3, less than three weeks shy of his 21st birthday and after a five-year battle with epithelioid sarcoma. Miller continued playing the drums even after having his dominant arm amputated in 2011.
Vitale will present Miller’s parents with a grant in Justin’s name for $250,000.
“Nothing pleases me more now,” Vitale said. “I’m selfish. I have five grandchildren. I’m about to go watch the kids play tennis. That’s what every kid should be doing. Instead, we have so many doing chemo and radiation. It’s just not fair.”
In total, Vitale will have 11 families of cancer survivors, including eight of the survivors, on hand at the Ritz-Carlton.
Everyone there should witness a record-breaking night for the event, topping the $1.8 million raised last year and reaching the $10 million milestone over eight years.
“People have been great to me,” Vitale said. “I’ve got goose-bumps thinking about it.”
On the web: http://www.dickvitaleonline.com
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