Jul 12, 2022

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Robby Manse

Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

Earlier this year, we met Robby Manse, an 18-year-old senior at Christian Brothers Academy. This month, he will become the first CBA graduate to go to West Point in more than 20 years and only the third on record. He is a nationally ranked in shot put and track and field but is also well-known as a smart, kind, compassionate young man who – despite his athletic commitments – still honors his faith by volunteering as a GURU (Giving Us Religious Understanding) at CBA. Robby’s journey was led by many mentors who taught him confidence and compassion, and now he’s sharing those lessons with others. Here is Robby’s story.

It all started in the driveway at my old house in Middletown. That was my elementary school fantasy basketball court where I was perfecting my superstar shots. I spent hours watching Shaquille O’Neil and Michael Jordon as I perfected my craft. I learned that grind and hustle would be valuable when I entered Christian Brothers Academy. 

My freshman months at CBA were some of the hardest yet most rewarding of my life. I had to adjust from being a public school honor student to student life in a well-known, challenging high school. More importantly, I wanted and needed to find my hobby. I was no athlete; running and endurance was not my thing, so.ping pong club it was. The president of CBA, Brother Frank Byrne, ran the Friday club. He was the most caring guy somebody could ever meet, and I constantly looked up to him as a mentor. When the Friday Ping Pong club ended, I thought about basketball, but that didn’t happen. 

My homeroom teacher, Mr. Andrew Cusick, noticed I was a bulky kid who might learn to throw the shot put. Shot put? Are you kidding me? What even is that sport? But I trusted Mr. Cusick. He was always nice in homeroom and cared about me, so with some hesitation, I went to the indoor track and field tryouts. I didn’t know how to prepare myself to throw shot put. All I basically did to prepare was get my outfit ready. It was not a great tryout, and I felt a little defeated, but Mr. Cusick kept me on the team because he believed that if I would work hard, I could become a great thrower.

The turning point in my freshman year was joining the track team. I met seniors who really loved the sport and who inspired me to become a better athlete. The captains were happy to share tips and man-to-man examples that changed my view on shot put forever. I spent countless nights studying shot, so much so that my dad bought me a 400-page book about the sport. I also kept my grades in check, like the seniors pushed me to do. I learned how to manage my time and finished freshman year as one of the best underclassmen on the team. My parents and coaches believed I could become somebody, and they made me believe it too. They taught me to never take anything for granted or give up on what you love.

I became an avid lifter, and I even bought my own weights for a pre-school pump. This sport changed my life for the better. I stayed committed and got into much better shape. I worked hard to set records, and by junior year, I knew I wanted to spread my knowledge and love of the sport to the underclassmen, just like those seniors did for me. It was my pleasure to help them improve and believe in themselves. I kept going every year and finished on the Top 5 list for CBA’s shot put and discus leaderboard. I’m now ranked seventh in the nation in shot put. More importantly, I was humbled when a number of Division 1 coaches reached out to me. They trusted me too. 

The one that really had my attention was The United States Military Academy at West Point. I followed their throwing page on Instagram and thought, “Wow, these people have a lot of respect for throwing and serving their country. Must be cool.” When I told my parents that West Point contacted me, they were honored but equally scared. I’m an only child who knows his parents want him safe. Putting yourself in a situation where you might go to war is the last thing a parent wants you to do. 

After months of speaking with Coach Ryan Hershberger at Army, on July 8, 2021, my parents and I took our first visit to West Point. It was the most impactful experience of my and my family’s life. As soon as we stepped foot on campus, we were struck with West Point’s rich beauty and tradition, and that admiration only grew when we talked to the coaches and admissions officers. We walked the campus and visited the classrooms, realizing with each step the powerful footsteps we were following. 

We visited again on Sept. 11, 2021. I met possible incoming cadets, had in-depth conversations with the track coaches, and we bonded over fireworks, a football game and multiple dinners.

On Sept. 26, 2021, I verbally committed to USMA and on Nov. 11, 2021, I officially signed with my dream school.

Who would ever guess I’d be in this position? I guess my parents did, and for that, I am forever grateful. My parents, all my coaches and classmates are my heroes. They taught me to never lose hope and to be kind and supportive in any way possible. 

It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and feed you positive thoughts. It’s also important, as I learned when tutoring the underclassmen, to support others. Find good spiritual, athletic, educational, artistic and social role models. Find good people and then be one yourself. I am going to West Point to excel personally, but also to excel for this nation as a second lieutenant and for all the people who make it great.