The recent Dick Vitale Gala again was a huge success as it raised about $1.6 million for the V Foundation for cancer research.
Jennifer Palumbo, FOX 56 (WDKY-TV) news anchor, was at the gala along with her husband Joe to cover the event that Kentucky coach John Calipari is part of.
“Recently you asked me my celebrity crush, and I said Dick Vitale. The gala is why. Seeing him crying on stage about the children suffering from cancer treatments and the families who've lost children is powerful. That's why I'm such a fan of Dick Vitale,” said Palumbo. ‘Sports fans love him for his work on ESPN, but he is just as dedicated to using his fame and wealth to help others in need. You can tell he would do anything to rid the world of cancer. In our celebrity-obsessed society, Dickie V. is one who is using it the right way. ‘That's awesome, baby!’”
Palumbo shared a few insights of her trip to Florida with Calipari to cover the event for WKDY and WKYT:
Question: What were your impressions of the Dick Vitale gala?
Palumbo: “This was the second year my husband Joe and I were invited to the Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota with coach Calipari. Last year he was one of the honorees along with North Carolina coach Roy Williams and tennis great Nick Bolletieri. We had a big group that included Vince Calipari, Josh Hopkins, Joe Craft and Rick Corman just to name a few. In his speech, Cal honored his mom who had recently died from cancer and his close friend Rick Corman who's batting cancer. As usual, Cal gave an amazing speech.
“This year I wasn't sure I'd be able to go. May is a big month for TV stations because it's one of four months when ratings are measured. My boss didn't want me to be off the air, even for one night, so he said I could go if I fed back a story for the FOX 56 Ten o'Clock News. So I worked with someone from our sister station in Tampa. Before the gala, I interviewed Dick Vitale, coach Cal and Rick Pitino. It was hectic having to work, but it was a lot of fun.
“The story aired that night on FOX 56. Then I took on the job of taking photos of Cal for his Twitter account. As he worked the crowd I snapped pics on my phone of him with everyone from gala honorees Lou Holtz and Villanova coach Jay Wright to Jacob Raleigh, the tennis player from eastern Kentucky who lost an arm to cancer.
“The gala was at the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton. It was a sold-out crowd of more than 800 people. The party raises money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research named after his friend Jimmy Valvano who lost his battle to cancer. The celebrities pay all their expenses. The V Foundation doesn't fly people in and pay for their rooms like some charities. Donations pay for travel expenses for the families. It shows the power and popularity of Dick Vitale; he can sell out the party and then get guests to give even more.”
Question: How emotional was the event for you even though you were working?
Palumbo: “After I finished my story I was able to experience the emotions of the event. Last year we met Tatum Parker, a cancer patient from Indiana who created a charity called Tatum's Bags of Fun. She reminded me a lot of my friend Jarrett Mynear who started Jarrett's Joy Cart; the Jessamine County boy lost his long battle with cancer at the age of 13. Joe and I have kept in touch with Tatum and her dad and were excited to see them again. They're also big Indiana fans who enjoy reminding us that IU beat UK this past season.
“The most emotional part of the night is when they honor the children fighting cancer and those who've lost the fight. To see parents on stage and hear about their loss is heartbreaking. It was also special to have the Kentucky connection with Jacob Raleigh and thinking of all the Kentucky children with cancer and the ones we've lost.
“Sharing the stories on stage is how they are able to show the crowd why it is so important to give back. Dick Vitale said someone went up to him and said they were so moved they wanted to give $500,000.”
Question: How did Caipari handle the event?
Palumbo: “Coach Cal was in his element at the party. Since I was responsible for taking photos of him, I had to keep up with him as he interacted with the coaches, players and families touched by cancer. The funniest moment for me came from ESPN's John Saunders, who was the emcee. He was talking about his daughter going to college, and he took a jab at our coach and the number of players he's had leave after one season for the NBA.
“Here's the tweet I sent out about it: ESPN's John Saunders: I would've sent my daughter to Kentucky but she'd only have been there a year. Cal: She'd be a millionaire! Saunders repeated Cal's comeback to the crowd, and they loved it. He definitely knows how to work a crowd.
Question: What was it like for you to see the story of Jacob Raleigh, a tennis player who showed so much courage after losing his arm to cancer?
Palumbo: ”The gala raises money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Each year they honor children fighting cancer. Last year I mentioned to Dick the story of Jacob Raleigh who plays tennis despite having lost an arm to cancer. I said I thought Jacob would be a great young person to honor because he has overcome so many odds and still plays the game he loves. Dick asked me to send him more information, and I did. It was an honor to meet Jacob and his parents at the gala.”
Question: What will be the one memory you will bring back from this that stays with you for a long time?
Palumbo: “The memory that will stay with me most had to do with coach Cal. He had all these coaches and athletes wanting to talk to him and get their photos. But the one person he really wanted to meet was Jacob Raleigh. So I was on a mission to make it happen. I took Cal to Jacob and his parents, and they were thrilled. Jacob told us his dream was to play at UK. Of all the friends and fans Cal had in that room, he was determined to find the boy from Kentucky in the fight of his life.”
Follow Palumbo at facebook.com/jnimepalumbo twitter.com/JPalumboFOX56.