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Dickie V Sports Night benefits youth

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

April 24
One of the special nights in my career came on Tuesday. Why would I say that? Because of my love and affection for youngsters.

I'm so proud to have my name associated with the Sarasota (Fla.) Boys and Girls Club. The last four years, we have raised thousands and thousands of dollars for the club through the Dickie V Sports Night program. It helps kids who need a helping hand, and it's so beautiful to see the response of the community in supporting this event. It was so crowded Tuesday night that several people had to be turned away at the door.

Alex Rodriguez has been passionate in talking about the importance of the Boys and Girls Club in his life.
It was so special to see people from the Sarasota area inducted into the local Sports Hall of Fame. Last year, tennis star Monica Seles and former NFL quarterback Otto Graham were inducted. Both reside in Sarasota, and they were truly thrilled with the honor. This year's inductees included legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri and local football coach John Patella.

Bollettieri talked about his youth, and he electrified the crowd with his inspirational speech about his passion and love for coaching. He's a motivator, a teacher and a charismatic leader who has played an instrumental role in the sport of tennis.

He also shocked the crowd when he announced this his academy will supply 400 -- that's right, 400 -- scholarships worth $1,000 each to the Sarasota-Manatee County area. My friends, he showed a lot by giving back and understanding where he came from. It's so important to remember where you came from as you climb the ladder of success.

I shared with the crowd several stories about Alex Rodriguez, the baseball superstar whom I have become close with. A-Rod has been passionate in talking about the importance of the Boys and Girls Club in his life, how it played a major role in his development as a youngster. He feels indebted to the coaches and people there who helped him.

There was also a touch of class as former NFL defensive lineman Tim Johnson came and spoke on behalf of his former coach, Patella. Johnson, who grew up in Sarasota, played with the famed local Redskins elementary school program coached by Patella.

Patella was also honored because of his dedication to Sarasota area youth. Johnson spoke in glowing terms about his former coach, whose program has developed 28 future NFL players. Johnson spoke of playing at Penn State under Joe Paterno and in the NFL under Chuck Noll and Joe Gibbs, but Patella is still his favorite coach. The eloquent Johnson now serves as a minister in Nashville.

What took the night to another level was the presence of four guests -- Herb Parmenter, Mike Magillo, Tommy Gragram and Brian Toohey. Why were they so special? They played a vital role as heroes during the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center.

Herb is a member of the New York City fire department; Mike is a member of the New York City police department; Tommy and Brian work for the Port Authority police department. They were the guests of Larry and Laura Herrig, who paid all of the expenses for the four to come to Sarasota. The Herrigs befriended the four on a visit to New York.

Larry is a generous man, as he donated thousands of dollars to the Boys and Girls Club in honor of those four. When he presented a $5,000 check to each for their special organization in New York, they turned around and donated the money back to the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club in honor of Larry. That was classy, baby!

Money was also raised through a silent auction (including sports memorabilia). Then there was a special raffle for a red 2002 Lexus Sports Convertible. It was unbelievable, but the winner was the person who donated the car, Vern Buchanan of Sarasota. Mr. Buchanan is also a man of great generosity. In four years, the money raised for the club exceeds $600,000. Our long-term goal is to raise more than $1 million, and we are well on our way.

It was a special, special evening -- and I am so proud to be associated with so many beautiful people. These youngsters set the foundation for the community. Sarasota is a wonderful place, with great weather, beautiful beaches, great tennis and golf. Most importantly, the people here are awesome with a capital A!

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