Sabres announcer Kevin Sylvester is used to being on the sidelines calling games.

On Friday, he’ll be taking center stage as one of eight local celebrities matched with a professional Western New York dancing studio in “Suneel’s Celebrity Gala,” a ballroom competition modeled after “Dancing with the Stars.”

“It has been quite the challenge – like learning a foreign language. I basically had the John Travolta disco moves or the ‘running man,’ where you stand and run in place – that was pretty much the extent of my dance moves,” Sylvester laughed.

But after being paired with Paula Iacono of Iacono Dance Studio in Amherst, he said he’s much better prepared. “I don’t think I’m going to embarrass myself,” Sylvester said. “Actually, we have been working very hard, and Paula has been extremely gracious in putting the work in and being very patient with me.”

The event, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight at Statler City, is a fundraiser for Suneel’s Light Foundation, a local nonprofit committed to raising money for research into treatments and a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The neuromuscular disorder, characterized by a progressive weakening of the muscles, is the most common lethal genetic childhood disease.

The foundation is named for Suneel Ram, now a 10th-grader at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. It was founded by his mother, Dr. Neera Manning of Williamsville. “There are wonderful developments happening scientifically and pharmaceutically, and from a clinical trials perspective, and I feel all the approaches are really coming together,” Manning said. “It’s an exciting time – I think we’re on the brink of some really big developments for our boys.”

Suneel is more focused on school – and his new passion of being an announcer for freshman football and basketball games. He even got to call a bit at a Niagara University hockey game recently.

“Suneel loves announcing because he’s part of the team. That makes a big difference in how someone feels, if they feel a part of things and are contributing,” Manning said. “St. Joe’s has been wonderful to Suneel.”

Suneel was awarded a “Golden Mic Award” at the school’s recent sports banquet.

Attorney David B. Smith, the event’s co-chairman with Lihann Jones of Iacono Dance Studio, praised the dancers and their trainers as they go through their final paces learning four ballroom dances before Friday’s event.

“They have gone above and beyond the call for this very important cause,” Smith said.

Buffalo Zoo Director Donna Fernandes, who is teamed with Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Amherst, said she’s ready to give it her all for a good cause. “I’m a little nervous, only in that no one wants to look really foolish. I have no prospects of winning, but I just don’t want to look stupid. I said to my instructor, just make sure I don’t look embarrassed,” Fernandes laughed.

WIVB Channel 4 anchor Diana Fairbanks, paired with Fred Astaire Studios in Williamsville, said she’s looking forward to the event.

“It’s going to be a great venue. When would you have the opportunity to do something like that at the Statler? It’s going to be gorgeous,” Fairbanks said. “Dmitri, my partner, is very stern but also very well mannered. He has very high expectations that I’m not sure I can deliver on, but I’m trying.”

Also participating are Maryalice Demler, WGRZ-TV Channel 2 anchor; Joel Giambra, former Erie County executive; Dave Jickster, 97 Rock FM radio personality; Stephanie Matczun, Buffalo Jills director and part-time host of AM Buffalo on WKBW-TV Channel 7; and Aaron Mentkowski, WKBW-TV Channel 7 meteorologist. Former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul will serve as one of three judges.

The winner will be determined by public votes online, at the event and by judges. Tickets for the fundraising gala, which will include a live auction, are $175 for individuals and $325 per couple.

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