A local fifth grader is looking to add another championship to Philadelphia's winning streak.
Willie Waerig of Plymouth Meeting, PA is set to compete on American Ninja Warrior Jr., a spin-off of NBC's American Ninja Warrior. The show is scheduled to premiere on Saturday, Oct. 13 on the network's Universal Kids channel.
Waerig's mom, Louisa, says her son first began competing in ninja sporting events after becoming a fan of the original TV show two years ago.
"He started spider crawling around the house and climbing things, so I found a gym nearby where he could go to practice and learn in a safe environment," Waerig said.
Waerig went on to begin competing in a regional youth ninja sports league before heading to nationals, where he took fifth place in the 6-8 age group. His local gym then started a youth ninja sports team that Willie now competes with.
This past spring, Waerig and his family learned about a casting call for the new show. Out of a group of nearly 3000 applicants, he was one of less than 200 kids chosen to compete. Signs made by his parents and younger brother dubbed him "Willie from Philly," a nickname that stuck during the competition, where he competed in the 9-10 age group.
Willie described the experience as fun and exciting. "I got to meet a lot of new friends and people who were on the adult show," he said.
Louisa says her son's interest and success in ninja sports were a welcome change from his prior experiences with traditional sports. She describes Waerig as fast and athletic, but non-confrontational. Before discovering ninja sports, he tried soccer and baseball and didn't like either. He took that as a sign that he wasn't a good athlete. Now, she says, Willie's success with ninja sports has helped him to gain back his confidence.
"He realized, ''Oh, I'm an athlete. I'm a good athlete,' and that then gave him the confidence to go back and try other sports again," she said. Waerig now does both track and swimming in addition to playing the piano. He also speaks Mandarin.
Louisa hopes sharing Waerig's story can help other kids who aren't interested in traditional sports and activities.
"There's kids out there who haven't found what they're good at yet," Waerig said. "It's out there."
She encourages parents to start by exploring their options.
"Try anything that's out there," she said. "Look for more individual sports or something they're good at to instill some confidence. Try different things, and be encouraging and supportive of your kid. Kids shouldn't be discouraged if they're not good at soccer or baseball because there's other things out there for them."