17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala raises record $11.1 million in fight against pediatric cancer

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"My agenda tonight is about gratitude and perspective," said Vitale, during his 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022. To his left, Rod Gilmore who received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award and former NFL star and ESPN host Keyshawn Johnson, on right, who was also a honoree.
"My agenda tonight is about gratitude and perspective," said Vitale, during his 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022. To his left, Rod Gilmore who received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award and former NFL star and ESPN host Keyshawn Johnson, on right, who was also a honoree.

SARASOTA – On one side, an honoree who won a Super Bowl as a player and can be seen on ESPN and heard on ESPN Radio. On the other, another honoree, this one having coached a college basketball team to its first-ever national championship.

And in the middle, an 82-year-old college basketball analyst, whose lifetime legacy will be the reason more than 900 people gathered Friday night at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota for the 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala.

Dick Vitale had a bet with his wife Lorraine that he wouldn't cry during his 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala's during a press conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022. To his left, Rod Gilmore who received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award.
Dick Vitale had a bet with his wife Lorraine that he wouldn't cry during his 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala's during a press conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022. To his left, Rod Gilmore who received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award.

But in terms of star power, the trio of Keyshawn Johnson, Scott Drew, and Dick Vitale had to share some of it with a cancer survivor sitting in the front row for the annual pre-Gala press conference.

Noah Reeb, a member of Vitale’s All-Courageous Team of cancer survivors, now has his own team, the 10-year-old its only member.

The All-Celebrity Team. Getting to call Tom Brady a pal is all that Reeb needed.

“What is that Vitale saying?” said James, Noah’s dad. “It’s serendipity, baby. I think we all just kind of figured, ‘you know what? Be in the right place the right time and see what happens.’”

The Gala’s mission, as it is every year, is raising money for pediatric cancer research through the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Only four cents of every research dollar get earmarked for pediatric cancer. Vitale said he wants this money to be used in creating medications specifically for kids. “Now the medicine is for adults and kids,” said Vitale, whose bouts with melanoma and lymphoma over the past seven months allowed him to share the perspective of the young boys and girls on his All-Courageous Team, all of whom battled cancer and won their fight.

“My agenda tonight is about gratitude and perspective,” said Vitale, his voice still not back to 100% following vocal cord surgery. “The scans, the bloodwork, the chemo.” During his treatments, Vitale regularly posted on Twitter. “I tried to be transparent,” he said, “to let people know what cancer patients go through.”

Rod Gilmore, in middle, a college football analyst for ABC and ESPN, who has battled multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for the last six years received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award during The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022.
Rod Gilmore, in middle, a college football analyst for ABC and ESPN, who has battled multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for the last six years received the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award during The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022.

One who knows is Rod Gilmore, a college football analyst for ABC and ESPN, who has battled multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for the last six years. He was at the Gala to receive the V Foundation John Saunders Courage Award. “I had a friend ask me before I came here, ‘so, what is (Vitale) really like?’ I said, ‘he’s got a heart of gold.’’’

ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi attended Dick Vitale's first Gala, that was held in Vitale's home. He has served as the Gala's emcee the last six years. The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, was held on Friday, May 6, 2022.
ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi attended Dick Vitale's first Gala, that was held in Vitale's home. He has served as the Gala's emcee the last six years. The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, was held on Friday, May 6, 2022.

Something ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi knows all too well. Working for a Sarasota TV station, Negandhi attended Vitale’s first Gala, held in his home. He’s served as the Gala’s emcee the last six years. When Vitale was receiving cancer treatment, Negandhi often talked to him.

Invariably, the conversation shifted to the Gala. “Every time we talked about what he was going through, ‘I’ve got to do more for the kids. I’ve got to raise more money. We got to hit this number for the Gala,’’’

Friday’s number was $7 million, which would bring the amount raised over 17 years to $50 million. The main reason Johnson flew in from Los Angeles to attend the event.

Former NFL star and ESPN host Keyshawn Johnson, was also a honoree during The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022.
Former NFL star and ESPN host Keyshawn Johnson, was also a honoree during The 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, on Friday, May 6, 2022.

“I think it’s important,” the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer said. Then Johnson told of losing his long-time assistant several years ago to cancer. “She was pretty much my rock,” he said. “She was the person who kept everything together for me. Everything from A to Z she handled; she was like a second mom to me. Ever since then, this has been clearly dear to my heart.”

Her own battle with ovarian cancer prevented tennis legend Chris Evert from attending the press conference. “She’s trying to conserve all her energy to be able to be in that Gala, and that room,” Vitale said.

Noah, who had arrived with his parents, Jacque and James, from Highland, Utah, was to be the only person in the Gala ballroom to receive Super Bowl tickets from Brady, who just happens to be Noah’s favorite player.

The 10-year-old was diagnosed last year with brain cancer. Treatment included two surgeries, radiation, and chemo. Following one of the surgeries, Noah and Jacque were sitting in their car, talking about mental toughness, when Jacque’s phone chimed. A video popped up and it was Brady, who had heard of Noah’s fight, how he was his biggest fan in Utah, and how his thoughts and prayers would be with him.

At that point, James promised Noah they would fly to Tampa to watch a Bucs game when he was healthy enough. In October last year, the three traveled to Tampa to watch the Bucs host the Bears. But before going, Noah made a sign which read “Tom Brady Helped Me Beat Brain Cancer.”

The family had seats behind the Bucs’ defensive players. Toward the end of the game, a couple players noticed the sign, the message written on both sides “And that’s when Chris Godwin kind of came over,” James said, “and after that happened, it totally snowballed.” After giving Noah his gloves, Godwin told him, “Hey, you know what? I got you.” He returned to the Bucs bench, and Brady soon was looking at where Noah was sitting. Noah turned the sign so his hero could read it, “and the rest is history,” James said. That’s because Brady didn’t forget Noah. Months later, another video message arrived from Brady. “Out of the blue,” James said. “You’ve inspired so many people, including myself,” Brady said. “I worked with both the Bucs and the NFL to get you and your family Super Bowl tickets this year in L.A. We certainly hope to be there, but I know you’re going to be there.”

Once in Los Angeles, after an appearance on TheEllenShow, the family was treated like royalty. The pre- and post-game parties were held at Eddie V’s, and Noah was at both. “Noah’s mind was just getting blown,” said Jacque, remembering the waves of NFL players, including the Super Bowl champion Rams, Noah got to see.

His mom and dad happily report that Noah’s brain cancer is in remission. But among his friends, they noticed a change, and it came from his friendship with Brady. “It turned from sympathy to total hate,” Jacque said. “We had one of his friends say ‘I want to get cancer.’’’

But if dollars help in the fight against cancer, it was dealt a blow by Friday night’s final tally. Vitale was hoping for $7 million. A record $11.1 million was raised, bringing the total over 17 galas to close to $55 million.

“I am absolutely blown away by the generosity,” Vitale said. “I simply say ‘thank you’ to all who donated.”

James and Noah Reeb at Friday night's 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
James and Noah Reeb at Friday night's 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: 17th Annual Dick Vitale Gala raises record $11.1 million in fight against pediatric cancer