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A special night on the Piers


April 24, 2006

Last Friday night at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan was simply magical.

Jimmy V Spirit Night is as special as it gets. The room was filled with giants from the corporate world, the entertainment world and the sports arena. Guys like ESPN's own George Bodenheimer and John Skipper, executives who have led the network, as well as ABC Sports, to greatness. They know about putting a winning team together.

Then think about the Board of Directors for the Jimmy V. Foundation. I am so proud to be a little spoke in the wheel that this group has become. They have impacted so many lives, getting millions and millions in grants in the fight against the dreaded disease of cancer. That number grew even higher after Friday night as over 500 gathered for this special evening honoring Jimmy Boeheim and Jim Calhoun, two guys who really have shared their feelings about Jimmy V.

Boeheim and Calhoun were recipients of the Spirit of Jimmy V. award for their inspiration in battling cancer. Both have survived prostate cancer and they have set the tone, showing people that they can continue their lives when inflicted with the dreaded disease.

John Saunders did a phenomenal job as host, talking about his love for Jimmy V. and being part of a family that the board of directors represents.

I told the crowd that when you look at the passion and unbelievable commitment that these people have to fight cancer, something that Jimmy V. believed in strongly as well, it is special. It starts with the chairman of the board of directors, former Rutgers All-America and Jimmy V. roommate Bob Lloyd.

When you look at the definition of friend in the dictionary, Lloyd's picture should be there. He has given his heart, time, spirit and energy, as well as his money, to champion this cause. I think about Harry Rhodes of the Washington Speakers bureau, a group I am proud to be a member of, a man who has worked so diligently. He is a winner who has put time, effort and dollars as well.

I think about Saunders, who has been so dedicated on behalf of his buddy. There is Rosa Gatti, executive vice president of communications at ESPN, who has also worked diligently for the V Foundation. Michael McDonald, president of Xerox who I coached for one season at Rutgers. Xerox and Nike were the chief sponsors of the event.

Also announced that evening was a $1 million grant for research against breast cancer in the name of Jamie Valvano-Howard, Jimmy's daughter, who dropped out of school in 1993 when she tried to motivate her dad.

Back on March 4, 1993, Jimmy V -- the first Arthur Ashe award for courage recipient -- said that cancer would take away my physical abilities but it can't touch my heart and my spirit. Who would have thought that his daughter would suffer from the dreaded disease. Jimmy also said that night that the dollars for research would not save his life but could save the lives of his children and grandchildren.

He was prophetic as Jamie fights breast cancer and had a double mastectomy seven months ago. Now there is a $1 million grant in her name.

It was so emotional to hear Pam Valvano-Strasser speak to the crowd about hearing the the news about her daughter. She lost her husband so young and now has to deal with the situation with her daughter

It was heartwarming to hear Boeheim and Calhoun talk about what it was like when the doctors issues the words, "you have cancer." Calhoun said that those words floored him.

It was a special night and I was touched by the entire event. Jimmy V had a commitment to reaching goals and making a dream a reality, like cutting down the nets in Albuquerque as national champions.

He was about believing it, dreaming it and making it happen.

At the end, his dream was beating cancer, not for himself but for all the other people out there battling. His dream marches on because so many people have dedicated themselves. Nick Valvano is the president and CEO of the V Foundation. Joyce Aschenbrenner battled cancer and now she is giving her time and effort to the Foundation as well and she does a wonderful job.

As I told the crowd, one day we will find a cure for this dreaded disease. Over $51 million has been raised over the years by the V Foundation.

I can't wait for May 4th at my house as we have The Evening with the Stars, another gala to raise more money towards Jimmy V's dream.

Anyone who wants to join the fight can donate by calling 1-800-4-JIMMY V. I can't thank the PTP'ers who made Friday night so special.

It was a night that Jimmy V would have been proud of.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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