This ninja warrior faced an unusual obstacle: his bar mitzvah

Jeff Baumgarten goes up the Warped Wall during the Jennifit fundraiser at Howdershell Park in May 2021

ELLEN FUTTERMAN, Editor-in-Chief

I recently caught up with my ninja warrior friend, Jeff Baumgarten, who will be a seventh grader at Parkway Central Middle School, attending virtually. He became a bar mitzvah last month at United Hebrew.

You might remember that when we last left Jeff, in May 2020, he had just shown off his agility and athletic abilities to the entire country when he competed on “American Ninja Warrior Junior” on the Universal Kids network. The show is a spinoff of “American Ninja Warrior,” an NBC megahit in which contestants try to navigate a series of physically demanding obstacles and challenges.

Jeff was one of 52 youngsters chosen from 5,000 applicants to compete in the 9-10 age bracket, and ended up in the semi-finals, finishing in the top 16 (the show was taped before the pandemic).

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With COVID, competitions pretty much came to a halt for more than a year, and they are only starting to pick up. Two days after his bar mitzvah, Jeff was competing in the National Ninja League Finals in Lawrence Township, N.J., where he ended up 14th out of the 80 boys who competed in the 11-12 age division.

He was disappointed by his finish.

“He knows he could have done better but I kept telling him that no other kid– and I am sure of this – went into the competition having had just prepared for his bar mitzvah,” said Melika Baumgarten, Jeff’s mother.

For his mitzvah project, Jeff partnered with Hazelwood Parks to host a benefit Ninja Warrior Competition, called the Jennifit, in honor of his friend’s mom, Jennifer Marr, who was killed last October while driving her kids to a ninja competition. The fundraiser was held at Hazelwood Park on May 1, and proceeds from the competition went to the three Marr children.

Jeff, who will turn 13 next month, plans to keep training as much as he can, mostly at the Ultimate Ninja St. Louis facility in Chesterfield (he also uses an obstacle course he and his father built in the family’s backyard). His goal is to qualify for —and win — the adult “American Ninja Warrior” show, which accepts applicants as young as age 15.

But don’t go thinking that being a teenage ninja is all that’s on Jeff’s plate. “I also like building stuff and enjoy cooking,” he said. “Yesterday, me and my sister made jams and jellies using fruit from our garden.”