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Native Fantasy League event to benefit UNITY

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Likened to a national holiday, on Super Bowl Sunday football fans from across the nation hold parties and cheer on their favorite team, while enjoying the usual assortment of snacks and drinks.

But prior to the big day, United National Indian Tribal Youth Inc. is slated to kick off the weekend by honoring Native athletes during its inaugural Native Fantasy League event at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center in Scottsdale Jan. 31.

In addition to honoring the spirit of sportsmanship during Super Bowl weekend, UNITY recognizes the FBR Open, a golf tournament that tees off Jan. 28. Football fans will fill the University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix for Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3.

J.R. Cook, the executive director of UNITY, said the event was the brainchild of Mary Kim Titla.

Titla, an award-winning news anchor and member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, joined the organization in the late 1970s. She has since involved herself in projects that advocate on behalf of youths, including her role as publisher for Native Youth Magazine.

All proceeds from the gala event will benefit UNITY, Titla said. She set the fundraising goal at $1 million. To reach that goal, she strongly encourages tribes to sponsor the event. There are varying levels of sponsorship that range from $5,000 to $50,000, and recognition for the would-be donor increases for each level of sponsorship. All levels include one table for 10 people at the event.

''It would be nice to see more participation and show our young people that we are supportive of their efforts,'' she said.

The gala evening event will honor athletes Titla fondly refers to as the ''trailblazers,'' such as 1964 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, football stars Sonny Sixkiller and Jim Warne, Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, professional golfer Notah Begay and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.

Native rap artist Litefoot will serve as the honorary gala chairman, and National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. will emcee the event. Guest appearances include actress Q'orianka Kilcher; Pete Homer Jr., CEO of the National Indian Business Association; and Sam McCraken, a representative from Nike.

GRAMMY-nominated recording artist Jana is scheduled to perform.

''It's one of those events that a young person will never forget,'' Titla said.

Prior to the gala, Titla said planners for the event are setting up a time for notable athletes to take photos and sign autographs for young attendees. To her recollection, there are no other events of this caliber that are scheduled in Indian country during Super Bowl weekend.

Based in Oklahoma, UNITY was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1976 to promote the ''personal development, citizenship and leadership'' of American Indian youth. ''Sports is so vital to many Native youths,'' Cook said. ''We do encourage youths to do the best in whatever endeavor they decide to get involve in.''

The Native Fantasy League is not a sanctioned event of the National Football League or FBR Open, Titla said.

For more information on the Native Fantasy League, visit www.unityinc.org.