ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — In the coming-of-age 1990s baseball film "The Sandlot," a then 12-year-old Englewood native named Wil Horneff played a bully.
But Horneff, now 37, said the experience of being a child actor got him bullied.
"Since I was always working I was kind of like the outsider at school and didn't have a core group of friends," the Waldwick trainer told Daily Voice. " 'The Sandlot' is actually everything I wish my childhood was."
Horneff now operates " Training Grounds Jiu Jitsu & MMA ," a Westwood gym where he teaches children how to defend themselves from bullies through his jiu-jitsu, kickboxing and mixed-martial arts classes.
A childhood split between Hollywood film sets and the Saddle River School District stoked his passion.
"I want to give kids a confidence that I never had," Horneff said.
Horneff got into show business when he was six through connections at his mother's Westwood performing arts school.
He was cast as Phillips, the bully, in "The Sandlot" despite not being able to throw a baseball.
"I was supposed to be the pitcher in that scene where the two teams play each other," he said,"but they moved me to shortstop because I couldn't get the ball into the glove."
The film's success led to other roles but cost Horneff socially.
"I spent most of my time with adults," he said. "I was being integrated into a completely different world than most kids."
Inspired by Jean Claude Van Damme films, Horneff began practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu between auditions.
"It looked to me like it gave people superpowers," he said.
By his mid-twenties, Horneff was teaching jiu-jitsu classes in Los Angeles to support himself between acting gigs. By 26, he was doing it full time.
"I couldn't play the Hollywood game like others," Horneff said, "and I didn't think it was positive to stay in that environment."
He moved to Waldwick with his girlfriend, Alisa. A year later they got married and opened Training Grounds.
The couple is planning to have children of their own in the coming months. Horneff said he will happily show them "The Sandlot" but won't divulge the unhealthy aspects of a Hollywood childhood.
"I'd much rather get them involved in jiu-jitsu because that will teach them life lessons that will serve them," Horneff said. "I don't want there to be a character like Philips in their life."
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