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A sold-out crowd of 700 people attended Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's ninja warrior event at Velocity Air Sports on April 19.
Jax Daily Record Monday, May 2, 201612:00 PM EST

Ninja warriors help out JALA

'Lawyer Warriors' win friendly contest
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

On the surface, you might suppose that a ninja warrior competition and legal aid are polar opposites, each with virtually nothing to contribute to the other.

That supposition was soundly disproved April 19 when Jacksonville Area Legal Aid sponsored the 2016 Florida Ultimate Ninja Warrior Competition in cooperation with the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association.

A sold-out crowd of 700 people watched as 65 competitors from as far away as South Carolina hit the ninja warrior obstacle course at Velocity Air Sports.

The main sponsor of the event was CSX Corp., joined by Donasity, a local charity donation website; Pro-Marketing Inc.; and four radio stations.

“It was definitely new ground for JALA,” said Executive Director Jim Kowalski.

The event raised money to support JALA’s mission to provide free legal services to low-income clients in 17 North Florida counties who otherwise would not be represented by an attorney in potentially life-changing civil actions.

The final settling up won’t be complete for a few more days, but Carter DeWitt, JALA chief development officer, said considering the sponsors and the capacity crowd, reaching the goal of raising $25,000 is looking good.

As of Monday morning, indicates 93 donors have contributed $17,722 to JALA.

“We were hoping just to break even. It’s a home run for our first year,” said DeWitt.

The event came together in just 45 days.

When the national athlete association heard what JALA was trying to do, it scheduled Jacksonville as the last area qualifying competition of the 2015-16 season, leading up to the UNAA Championship Final on Aug. 6 in Rio Rancho, N.M.

It didn’t take long for what DeWitt called the “ninja grapevine” to go into action.

Sixty-five competitors, many from outside Jacksonville, took on the ninja obstacle course at Velocity Air Sports.

Some of them are likely to compete when “American Ninja Warrior” begins its eighth season in June on the Esquire and NBC television networks.

In addition to raising money to help support legal aid in North Florida, the competition also raised awareness of the organization’s mission among the public.

DeWitt said the competition’s Facebook page got 170,000 views.

The event and JALA were featured on local television morning shows and a new public service announcement is beginning to air on local stations.

“This put JALA in the public eye,” said DeWitt.

“Obviously, a significant number of lawyers don’t know the role of legal aid and an overwhelming number of the public don’t know our role. This event was part of bridging that huge gulf,” said Kowalski.

As a bonus, Kowalksi went home with a medal to add to his collection.

He led a squad of attorneys, the “Lawyer Warriors,” who won a friendly competition with squads from the Arena Football League Jacksonville Sharks and the Jacksonville Giants of the American Basketball Association.

“We were the opening act. It was nerve-wracking when our team competed,” Kowalksi said. “But we had a ringer.”

DeWitt and Kowalski already are planning the second annual ninja warrior fundraiser and the goals will be higher.

“We are going to up our game next year,” he said.

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