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Military charity launches fantasy football fundraiser

Sep. 4, 2009 - 11:27AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 4, 2009 - 11:27AM  |  
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Football season is upon us, and with it, its increasingly popular alter ego, fantasy football. More than 25 million Americans will scrutinize, analyze and obsess over players and stats for a fantasy team this year, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Wouldn't it be great if they were doing all that scrutinizing, analyzing and obsessing for a good cause?

That's the pitch a new nonprofit,">Helping Hands for Freedom, is making to fantasy sports players around the country: Play in RapidDraft, a new online league, through its Web site"> and part of your sign-up fee will go to support military families.

Rodney Smith, a former college and professional football player, and retired Marine and soldier Patrick Shannon founded Helping Hands in December to give financial assistance to families of injured service members and organize mentoring programs for military dependents. But it's been a tough environment for new nonprofits.

"It's just a really hard time to raise money," Smith said.

Marquee golf events and other traditional fundraising tools have been much less effective since the economy went south. So, inspired by Barack Obama's success raising money, $10 at a time, from college students, Smith started looking for a way to solicit small contributions from many people. He hit upon the vast and expanding body of fantasy sports fans, many of whom are service members.

With help from the Shurn Group, a design company, and World Fantasy Games, Smith and Shannon are hoping to tap into that group through the RapidDraft league. The fee to draft a team in RapidDraft is $10 and if you create a team through, 50 percent of that will go to Helping Hands for Freedom. Once 25,000 users sign up, Helping Hands' slice goes up to 70 percent, Smith said.

The grand prize for the season is $250,000, and there are smaller prizes for weekly games. Check out"> for complete rules.

Smith, who hopes to sign up 50,000 users this year, said he thinks this combination of philanthropy and armchair quarterbacking has never been tried.

"Either I came up with a new and innovative idea, because no one's come up with this before," Smith said, "or I came up with a really stupid idea because no one's thought of it before."

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