Cameron Manna is a talented, passionate sportscaster at WWPT-FM, Staples High School’s award-winning radio station.
He just won a full scholarship to Ithaca College’s prestigious Roy H. Park School of Communications.
That’s quite an achievement. It’s even more remarkable because from 3rd to 8th grade, he had a speech therapy class. Cam stuttered.
His determination and grit are as powerful as his passions. An athlete all his life — baseball, football, basketball, you name it — he was equally fascinated by broadcasting.
“In my backyard, I pretend to be Derek Jeter,” he remembers. “But at the same time I wanted to be John Sterling” — the New York Yankees’ announcer.
At Greens Farms Elementary School, 5th grade teacher Moira Matthews encouraged him to follow his dreams. He never forgot that.
The summer before 9th grade, Cam attended a broadcasting camp run by Bruce Beck. The lead sports anchor for WNBC-TV has covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA and NHL finals, US Open golf and tennis, the NCAA Final Four and the Olympics.
That could be intimidating for a young teen. Especially one who would stammer at the beginnings of sentences, and over certain words.
He was teased at GFS and Bedford Middle School. “People made jokes,” Cam says. “But I just used that as motivation.” He now wears a bracelet with 2 sayings: “Never give up” and “Stay scrappy.”
He never thought his stutter would prevent him from being a broadcaster. In high school, a teacher suggested he consider another career. But he had much more support — including his parents, and radio production teacher Geno Heiter.
“He never says no to an idea,” Cam says. “He loves what he does. He gives us his absolute all, from the time he gets up till he goes to bed. He teaches leadership skills, and grooms us to be better people.”
Heiter returns the praise. “Since freshman year I have had the privilege to witness Cam evolve exponentially in areas of leadership, organization and empathy. He always delivers.”
From day one of freshman year, Cam found a home in Heiter’s classroom and studio. The more he learned, the more confident he became. And the more responsibility he was given, the more he grew.
He was mentored by older students. He got to school at 6 a.m., for early morning shows. As a sophomore, he and longtime friend and broadcast partner Jake Gersh called some games. Last year, they won awards.
This year, as a senior, Cam is a WWPT executive coordinator.
“When I put my headset on, I’m in a different world,” Cam explains. “I turn on the intensity, and bring people in.
“I know I won’t be in the NFL or MLB. But there’s nothing better than talking about sports. When I’m broadcasting. I’m almost a part of the game. Just in a different way.”
Staples’ girls basketball’s double overtime win in the 2020 FCIAC championship game was one of his highlights. “Jake and I were courtside at Trumbull,” Cam recalls. “We were in the center of all that intensity.”
Cam loves the WWPT team. But throughout Staples, he has continued to play on other teams. There’s football in the fall. This spring he’s part of Wrecker baseball, hoping to repeat as state champions.
The young broadcaster is grateful for the opportunities he’s had in Westport: mentors, technology, speech therapy. He gives a shout-out too to WWPT sportscasters who preceded him — role models like Cooper Boardman and Jack Caldwell.
Meanwhile, Cam returned every summer to Beck’s sportscasting camp. Beck returns the favor. He listened to Cam’s call of that FCIAC basketball game, and sent the audio file to ESPN. That earned him a spot on the network’s “Kidscast” of a New York Nets-Los Angeles Clippers game last spring. COVID canceled the chance. But more will come.
Ithaca boasts one of the nation’s top communications schools. It’s Beck’s alma mater — and he told Cam about the Park Scholar program.
Over 500 students applied for the award, which covers all tuition, room and board. Only 20 were selected for interviews. Eight — including Cam — were ultimately selected.
Park Scholars are passionate about broadcasting and related fields, and thrive on personal challenges. Cam’s ability to conquer his stutter certainly counts.
Park Scholars are also involved in community service. At Staples, he and friend Owen Ziegler started Renew Sports. They collected used equipment at the Westport Y and ASF, then donated it to organizations like Wakeman Boys Club.
Cam will continue initiatives like that at Ithaca. He also hopes to talk to youngsters with speech impediments, inspiring them just as Moira Matthews, Geno Heiter and Bruce Beck did for him.
His dream is be the New York Knicks’ play-by-play announcer. He knows there’s a long road to Madison Square Garden, and will be happy at every stop along the way.
“I love doing this,” Cam says. “It doesn’t matter where, or what the money is. I’m just so happy bringing stories to life, and helping a community.”
(Hat tip: Victoria Capozzi)