Gala raises $2.1M for cancer fight

Friday night was a special evening in Sarasota, Florida, as the ninth annual Dickie V gala raised $2.1 million for pediatric cancer research for the V Foundation.

It was an emotional evening celebrating the work that has helped save lives as we battle this disease. There have been so many improvements, as shown by the youngsters who are doing much better now.

The ballroom of the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton was packed, and everywhere you went, there were sports celebrities. Coaches including Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Steve Alford of UCLA and Mark Fox of Georgia were there. Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher was there, too, along with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith and defensive end Gerald McCoy. Tampa Bay-area sports figures like Lightning coach Jon Cooper and former NBA player Marcus Liberty attended, as did former NBA coaches Mike Fratello and Richie Adubato. More than 80 celebrities were there.

Honorees Mike Brey of Notre Dame, Tom Crean of Indiana and Nick Saban of Alabama gave eloquent speeches, and I cannot thank them enough.

We also welcomed a youngster from Nebraska, Jack Hoffman, as we looked back on his battle with brain cancer and his tremendous spring game touchdown from last year. It was such a special moment having him on stage with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

And we were able to present $250,000 research grants in honor of the Livingston and Holsworth families, who both lost young children to cancer.

There were so many stories of perseverance with the real stars being the youngsters winning the fight against cancer. It was so special to introduce my team of superstar kids to the crowd.

Thanks to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo for introducing me to the audience, and to John Saunders as emcee of the evening. It was truly a night to remember. Also thanks to Yvette Sherman, the wife of Rams assistant coach Ray Sherman, for her amazing singing performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Dereck Whittenburg, a guard on Jimmy V's miracle 1983 championship team at NC State, showed part of his award-winning film "Survive and Advance," which chronicled how Valvano led a great team effort to a stunning upset of Houston's highly favored Phi Slama Jama squad in the tile game. Whittenburg now has an active role with the V Foundation.

Jimmy V Foundation CEO Susan Braun spoke about the statistics in the battle of cancer and talked about winning the fight.

A special thanks to all of the celebrities, people who paid their own way to be there. Their support meant so much to me and to the fans in attendance.

I will plead to raise money for the fight against cancer. I am in the final chapter of my life, and this cause means so much to me.

Kids should not have to go through chemotherapy. They should be out playing ball and enjoying their youth. I am passionate about this fight against cancer, and you can still help. For more information, visit the V Foundation at JimmyV.org.