''I cried like a baby when I heard she passed,'' Vitale said Monday, his voice cracking as he talked about ''Princess Lacey,'' who died April 8 at age 8 after a fight with cancer. ''I called her dad and we were both crying like babies. And then I made the promise.''
Vitale told Matt Holsworth that he would raise $250,000 in Lacey's name that would be for a pediatric cancer research grant through The V Foundation for Cancer Research. He would do it by the night of his fundraising gala this Friday in Sarasota, Florida. Vitale said Monday he's close to his goal.
''We can't save the girl with the angel smile, but we can try to save others in her name,'' Vitale said. ''We already have $175,000 raised and I'm confident we'll get the rest at the gala.''
This year's honorees are Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, Notre Dame head basketball coach Mike Brey and Indiana head basketball coach Tom Crean. The celebrities on the guest list form a who's who of college sports, and there are quite a few pro athletes and coaches on there, as well.
This is the ninth annual gala hosted by Vitale and his wife. A record $1.7 million was raised last year and Vitale is hoping the $12 million mark can be topped in the first nine years.
''I'm going to be 75 in June and I have lived the most blessed of lives,'' Vitale said. ''With my last breath I'm going to beg and plead to get people who can help to help. They may be saving a life they love.''
Heather and Matt Holsworth will be at the gala. Vitale will be able to keep that promise to them.
''He said he would do his best and somebody like him usually does it,'' Matt Holsworth said Monday. ''We will do all we can to keep Lacey's legacy alive.''
And it was sports that helped make a difference, then and now.
''We have gotten notes from people in her situation from all over the country and they are able to tell about some smiles she brought them,'' Holsworth said. ''What she did with Adreian let her live as exciting a life as she could. She was in a lot of pain and sports helped keep the focus off that.''
• Lopresti: Michigan State suffers true loss
• Michigan State mourns loss 'Princess Lacey'