Soccer: Sandy Creek's Reff reaches lifetime goal, named to U.S. Amputee Team

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Jul. 29—T.J. Reff recently watched a video of comedian and Paralympian Josh Sundquist that ultimately led him back to soccer to fulfill his dream of competing on the world stage.

Reff was recently named to the U.S. Amputee Soccer Team and signed on to play goalie for the World Amputee Football Federation World Cup slated for September in Istanbul, Turkey.

The 2021 Sandy Creek graduate received the call to join the national team after participating in just a few practices with the NYC Metro regional squad based on Long Island. The 19-year-old Reff is among the three youngest players on the World Cup roster.

"It still feels unreal," said Thomas Jason Reff, more frequently referred to as "T.J."

"I've grown up watching the U.S. team play in every tournament — the World Cup, the Gold Cup — the U.S. team in general has always been a dream, and to get the call that I would be representing the U.S. on the Amputee Team was a huge honor and a big part of that dream fulfilled."

Reff was sitting at home in early May when he saw the video of Sundquist discussing his experience on the U.S. Amputee Soccer Team and was instantly intrigued.

He visited the organization's website and discovered the presence of the regional team in New York City, reached out to coaches, and has been practicing with the club ever since. He travels to the area on Friday mornings, books a place to stay on AirBnB overnight, and returns home after Saturday practices.

Reff was surprised to receive the offer for the World Cup spot in a phone call from coaches so quickly after beginning training sessions with the regional team.

"I just assumed I'd keep working and when the next tournament comes around, I'd work hard enough that I'd be ready for it then, I never imagined it would happen within just a few months of me initially playing," Reff said.

Amputee soccer is played on a 3/4-sized field in a 7-on-7 format, with six field players and a goalie on each side for international competition.

Field players may only play the ball with one leg and goalies are allowed to use one arm, thus athletes without full function of upper extremities play goalie and participants without full use of lower limbs take the field positions.

Reff was born with Poland's Syndrome, a condition in which his fingers never fully developed due to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his right hand prior to birth. He has full bone development in his arm and wrist.

"Normally when I play, I'm sort of the odd one out, I mean, I'm the goalkeeper with one hand, but when I go down there it's just sort of like everybody is in the same boat," Reff said.

"There are no questions about it or any concerns, we're just there to play. Getting to know them and their stories and how they came to be on the team has been more inspiring to me, because it's seeing more people in my situation that I can relate to that I've never really had before."

Reff was promoted as a freshman and played three varsity seasons for the combined Sandy Creek/Pulaski High School team, logging more than 120 saves and garnering Frontier League All-Star honors as the full-time starter his junior year.

As the fourth of six siblings all gripped by the sport, Reff started playing club soccer year-round at age 5 and further developed his abilities in the self-made soccer field in the family back yard.

Reff's expected senior campaign with the Comets was delayed from the fall to spring 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, and the team was then unable to field a squad due to low participation numbers. He instead played football as a senior and converted 13 extra points and a field goal as the kicker for the condensed five-game spring season.

Reff has stayed busy working in Syracuse and playing indoor leagues since graduating last year but was eager to jump on the chance to return to organized soccer.

James Pierre-Glaude, who is on the board of directors for the American Amputee Soccer Association and the director of sports medicine and sports performance for the U.S. national team, described Reff as an exciting part of the team's future and said his enthusiasm was apparent upon their first meeting.

"It was refreshing to know that he had already been a goalie," Pierre-Glaude said.

"What happens is some of our upper-extremity amputees may be familiar with soccer and played as field players, but may not have any experience as a goalkeeper, so it was refreshing to see that he had lots of experience playing as a goalkeeper, so he caught right on. We didn't have to teach him about playing the position."

The U.S. Amputee national team relies heavily on fund-raising to cover the roughly $200,000 in costs related to training and sending the team to compete in the upcoming World Cup. Each player is expected to raise a total of $1,500 to cover part of their expenses. To donate or read further on the team's mission, visit www.usampsoccer.org.

Amputee soccer is played by more than 60 countries with 50 nations sanctioned by the World Amputee Football Federation, per its website, and the upcoming World Cup was the first to require a qualifying tournament.

The U.S. team, coached by Eric Lamberg, advanced in March by placing second in a qualifier featuring host Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica and El Salvador.