New Jersey teens play in IFCPF World Cup

As the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup drew to a dramatic close, another World Cup began.

Shea Hammond, 17, of Upper Montclair, and Jake Kaplan, 19, of Morganville, are playing in the IFCPF World Cup in Seville, Spain. IFCPF stands for the International Federation for Cerebral Palsy Football.

Their fathers, Ashley Hammond and Adam Kaplan, will be watching closely.

"The idea that my son is going to play in a World Cup is surreal," Ashley said.

"When I saw him wearing the U.S. crest, for the first time, I got the chills," Adam said.

Shea explained what he was going through physically when he first started playing soccer,

"The big thing with cerebral palsy was my lack of balance and muscular strength," Shea said. "So I was falling over a lot and I couldn't really run as fast or hardly even run at all."  

Jake has had a similar experience

"I was also born with cerebral palsy on my left side. Growing up wasn't the easiest. Everything that I do I'm always compensating for myself," Jake said. "Whether it be tying my shoes or playing different kinds of sports. Although soccer is the main sport that I play."  

Both Jake and Shea made the prestigious roster for the U.S. Para 7-a-Side National Team. Both teenagers share the same unconditional love and support from their fathers.

Shea's dad tells the story of how the family coped after Shea was diagnosed with C.P.

"When we found out that Shea had a stroke and that he was obviously going to spend his life fighting with the disabilities that he had, that was just more motivation for me and it was certainly motivation for him," Ashley said. "I instituted, my wife really instituted a 'no pick-up rule.'"

This was for whenever the family was playing sports. No one was to help Shea—he had to learn to continue playing, picking up his own ball, and so on.

For Jake's father, Adam, it was an emotional time, until they found soccer.

"We started therapy, early intervention at seven months. Two, three times a week, constantly, and as he got into elementary school we started with the physical therapy and occupational therapy," Adam said. "The doctors actually said that sports is actually the best therapy."

To get to the point of playing on the Para National Team, Jake and Shea had to overcome so many obstacles, including finding a soccer team that would let them play.

"When I first started playing club, that's normally the age when kids with C.P. stop playing soccer because they get weeded out," Shea said. "No one really wants the kid with the cerebral palsy to play on their team because they can't run, they can't move."

So Ashley, who was born in England and came to the U.S. to coach soccer, was inspired to launch the C.P. Soccer Program.

"We literally created a youth program out of noting and today with have C.P. soccer programs in Boston, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, Dallas," Ashley said. "And literally through hard work, raising funds, we've opened it up free of charge."

Shea will be going into his senior year at Montclair Kimberly Academy. During the school year, he still finds up to six hours a day to train.

Jake will be a sophomore at West Virginia University this fall. This summer, he is diligently following the program provided by his U.S. Soccer strength and conditioning coach.

But a couple days a week, the two come together at S.D.A Clifton Indoor Sports Facility to train together, appreciative of the bond and friendship they've been able to build through the game of soccer.

"I can relate to Jake, I can relate to my other teammates with cerebral palsy, with traumatic brain injury," Shea said. "Whatever it is—because we're all in the same boat."

Jake said he agrees and is excited to also be playing in this World Cup together.

"It's awesome. It's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Jake said. "I'm glad we both get to share it together."

The Para National Team consists of players from 16 years of age to 36.

In the 16-team tournament, the U.S. started group play Monday, July 8, by beating Iran 3–2. Then they will face Finland and Ireland.

Jake said he and his national team teammates have high goals.

"I want to win above anything else, I want to celebrate with my teammates, I want to be in that great moment," Jake said. "But in order to do that, we all have to work really hard and fight through our obstacles and just never give up along the way"

The IFCPF World Cup in Spain runs through the final championship match on July 20.