EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- There was nothing Dick Vitale could do to console the parents of Lacey Holsworth, the little girl whose friendship with Michigan State's Adreian Payne became a story that touched a nation. So he decided to help others by making a promise to Heather and Matt Holsworth.
"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 three-year 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 help raise $250,000 in Lacey's name for a pediatric cancer research grant through The V Foundation for Cancer Research and that he would do it by the night of his fundraising gala Friday in Sarasota, Florida.
He 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 football coach Nick Saban, Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey and Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.
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 in total donations will be topped after Friday's event.
"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.
"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, Holsworth said, 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," he 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."