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Vitale preparing 12th annual gala to fight pediatric cancer

Dick Vitale has a passion that even surpasses his love of college basketball. The 77-year-old bundle of energy says he has turned his life 24/7 into raising money for pediatric cancer research. "I will do this is until my last breath," he said Wednesday. "One of the reasons I'm upset is that just four cents of every dollar raised to fight cancer goes to pediatric cancer research and that shouldn't be happening."

On May 12, Vitale will host his 12th gala at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. More than 70 celebrities, mostly from the sports world, are scheduled to attend — all at their own expense and usually with a check in hand.

"I want to raise $3 million this year," Vitale said. "The event has been sold out for a while, but people can still donate by joining my team at dickvitaleonline.com. We raised $2.8 million at last year's event and we have raised over $21 million overall."

In true Vitale style, he names an all-courageous team made up of kids at the event who have survived cancer. "I'm in the College Hall of Fame and the Naismith Hall of Fame and the Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but none of that matters compared to what my wife and I are trying to do here," he said. "Nothing matches the feeling of helping someone who is suffering."

The honorees this year are Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly — whose wife is a cancer survivor — ESPN personality Chris Berman and West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins. Vitale couldn't wait to tell the story of Kyle Peters, a cancer survivor who is now a senior in high school and who on his own raised $10,000 for pediatric cancer research.

"He did it to help other kids," Vitale said. "He knows the pain and suffering these kids go through." This year's event will have a special presentation of the V Foundation Award to the family of the late John Saunders, the former ESPN broadcaster who emceed the first 11 galas.

"When John passed, I promised that in his name we would raise $250,000 for a grant for pediatric cancer research," Vitale said. "We ended up raising $600,000 and we will donate three grants in his name to study brain cancer, neuroblastoma and bone cancer."

Vitale said the presentation will be special because of how much Saunders did every year interacting with the kids. "Jim Valvano, in his great speech at the ESPYs, said you should be moved every day to think, laugh and cry,'" Vitale said. "I guarantee you every person at the gala that night will be moved to all three emotions. I know I will."

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