South Carolina head men's basketball coach Frank Martin had the opportunity this weekend to attend the Seventh Annual Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota, Florida. Led by noted college basketball commentator Dick Vitale, net proceeds from the event benefit pediatric cancer research through The V Foundation. This year's event netted a record amount, over $1.6 million. The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator.
Martin met Valvano early on when he was a high school coach in Miami and Valvano came to recruit his players. Once he became a college head coach he knew he wanted to get involved with Vitale and The V Foundation to use his new job title and elevated exposure to help the cause.
"Vitale has utilized his place in society to do great things and the gala is spectacular - the amount of money that is raised, celebrities who believe in him and believe in the cause," said Martin. "Even though Jimmy V has been gone for so long, it goes to show just how powerful he was that even since his passing he still continues to touch so many lives."
Martin (right) with Coach Jim Haley of Ocala Vanguard High School at the Dick Vitale Gala (Photo courtesy of HeraldTribune.com)
Around 800 people attended this year's event, among them college basketball coaches, entertainers, professional athletes from multiple sports, governors and politicians, professional sports team owners. Several kids fighting cancer and their families also attended the gala and a separate event for them at Vitale's home. This year's coaching honorees were former Maryland head coach Gary Williams, Villanova head coach Jay Wright and legendary football coach Lou Holtz, who led the Gamecocks from 1999-2004.They each shared speeches of their own, including how their lives have been affected by cancer.
"Everybody has a great time. It's great to see people who live their lives in front of the cameras in a relaxed setting where they can kind of let their hair down and just enjoy the moment," said Martin. "I still get starstruck when I see people who have impacted the business that I'm in and made coaching a better profession to allow me to be a part of it now, whether it be Lou Holtz or Gary Williams who are retired from coaching, or Josh Freeman, quarterback for Tampa Bay who I knew from his Kansas State days there with [Pro Bowl wide receiver newly signed with Tampa Bay] Vincent Jackson. And to have Vincent Jackson come over and say he's a big fan - a guy who's that successful as an athlete to say he's a big fan of what we do is a lot of fun."
"The amount of college coaches who are there from John Calipari to Bob Huggins to guys that coach Division II, just shows how powerful it is. This time of year is down time for us - students are off campus, it's a recruiting dead period and coaches tend to relax with their families - but these coaches are traveling across the country to support Dickie V and Jim Valvano in the battle to fight cancer."
Read Dick Vitale's own recap of the event.