Fortunato receives top state honor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2000

Joe Fortunato of Natchez was named Thursday as a recipient of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Assocation (SGMA)&160;HEROES award for the state of Mississippi. Fortunato was selected for his founding of the Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic.

&uot;My secretary, Catherine (Stringer) told me about it but I really wasn’t paying any attention,&uot; Fortunato said. &uot;I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was maybe something to fill out to be nominated for the award.&uot;

The SGMA&160;HEROES program recognizes and rewards special individuals who, through their unique commitment and humanitarian spirit, have made an exceptional and lasting contribution to the pursuit of sports excellence. The program honors these &uot;unsung heroes&uot; of sports within local communities across the country, recognizing one winner in every state, as well as three national winners.

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&uot;It’s a really nice honor and I was shocked,&uot; Fortunato said. &uot;I’m honored and glad to get it.&uot;

Fortunato, a former All-American at Mississippi State (1951) and All-Pro linebacker with the Chicago Bears, has used his experience in sports to foster continuing opportunities for young area athletes to pursue their sports dreams and ambitions.

Fortunato originated and continues to run the annual Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic to provide college scholarships for worthy Miss-Lou young athletes through the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.

The local chapter has provided close to 70 scholarships to area youth since its inception in 1982. Each year, approximately $4,000 is raised by the Fortunato golf turnament.

&uot;I really enjoy helping the community,&uot; Fortunato said. &uot;I enjoy giving to charities, especially the American Cancer Society.&uot;

Fortunato has served as a volunteer coach for the Gra-Y Little League Baseball and Football Program, been a volunteer football coach at Cathedral and South Natchez, and served as a board member of the Natchez YMCA.

As a state SGMA HEROES award winner, Fortunato will receive a $100 cash award as well as a $400 donation to the program of his choice.

Henry Harris of Natchez was a national award winner in 1997.