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Sandstoners present special fan with signed jersey

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POTSDAM — He might not run for 100 yards or throw three touchdown passes, but when the Sandstoners football team takes the field tonight versus Tupper Lake, one of the most respected members of the team will be standing on the sidelines for the first time.

Jeffrey J. Moody, a young man from Brasher Falls with Down syndrome, will make his debut as the team’s water boy, wearing a jersey signed by the team and its coaching staff that the team presented to him before its Sept. 27 game versus the school’s archrival, the Canton Golden Bears.

Since that time, the number 40 jersey has seldom left his sight and is often on his back. Asked how many times she has had to wash the jersey since it was presented to her son, Jackie Moody said, “I can’t wash it, because he never takes it off,” she said. “He’s afraid the signatures will wash off.”

Jeffrey’s special relationship with the team began this summer after he befriended Jordan Buffham, a senior defensive end and left tackle, and his younger brother Brandon, who plays on the school’s modified team. The Buffham family spends summers camping in Brasher Falls, where Jeffrey lives.

“Brandon would go down and play with him,” said the boy’s father, Michael Buffham, who later learned that despite being a huge football fan, Jeffrey had never actually been to a game.

“He had never been to a game in person and now he’s hooked,” Mr. Buffham said. “He tries to imitate everything they do from the calisthenics to the plays.”

Ms. Moody said since her son attended his first game earlier this year, Potsdam football is all he talks about.

Helping to prove her point, in between conversations and hugs with guys from the team, Jeffrey, who is also a fan of the Denver Broncos, said, “I love Potsdam.”

Asked what would happen if Potsdam were to play the undefeated Broncos, Jeffrey replied, “Oh, jeez,” indicating that in his eyes the game would be too close to call. When asked who would win if Potsdam played the winless New York Giants, he laughed and said, “Potsdam.”

The most remarkable part of the story, Mr. Buffham said, is the way the team responded to having a new super fan.

“He’s a cool guy to be out on the field with,” Jordan said, adding that during the games there is no doubt who their number one fan is.

“Everyone can hear him,” he said. “It’s awesome to have someone showing so much support for the team.”

Maurice Rease, a senior corner on the team, has a special bond with Jeffrey. “I’ve taken care of kids like him before,” Maurice said. “I had a sister with special needs who passed away when she was 18.”

Maurice said that forming a relationship with Jeffrey has helped to fill a void in his life left by the death of his sister.

“He’s someone for me to look after and in a small way take care of,” he said.

“I think this has been good for the team and Jeffrey. Jeffrey is passionate about football and the team really appreciates it,” head coach James Kirka said, explaining that it was the team that approached him with the idea of presenting Jeffrey with a jersey.

“I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “It’s such a good group of kids. I wasn’t shocked to see something like this coming from this group. You just don’t see kids like this anymore.”

That’s a point that wasn’t lost on Ms. Buffham.

“The cool thing about this is how all the guys take the time to talk to him and give him ‘knuckles’ (what Jeffrey calls a fist bump) before every game,” she said. “They say kids can be cruel, but with this football team, it’s been anything but.”

Mr. Kirka also said that through bonding with Jeffrey, his players are leaning a valuable lesson that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives. “Be thankful for what you have and be empathetic to others.”

“It’s nice to see stories like this happening before our eyes,” Mr. Kirka said. “Every once in a while you’ll hear about a story like this, but it’s not often that you get to see it.”

Athletic Director Mark Wilson said what he’s seen this year from the football team is an example of north country hospitality.

“This is a north country community and this is what we expect from our kids,” he said, adding that this is an example of why interscholastic sports are so important.

“These kids were brought together by football,” he said. “There are people out there who wonder why football is still here and this is why. It brings the community together. These kids learn about a lot more than winning, losing and teamwork. They learn respect and it helps them get a sense of community. That is what this jersey represents.”

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