Mastropaolo was recognized for his resiliency Friday when he received the February male athlete for the MaxPreps Semper Fidelis High School Athlete of the Month Award. The award is presented by the U.S. Marine Corps and recognizes a student whom the corp feels embodies its values.
Browns starting quarterback DeShone Kizer attended the award ceremony to congratulate the young recipient.
“High school sports are designed to build character and foster teamwork and a competitive spirit in our nation's young people,” said Andy Beal, founder and president of MaxPreps.
Beal said the award represents qualities that make “not just great athletes, but more importantly fine citizens.”
Mastropaolo was born in Haiti, where he served as a child slave living in starvation, poverty and homelessness until he was purchased by a U.S. missionary for $60.
“She saw him being auctioned off and she knew she had to do something, so she bought him … and put him in the orphanage,” said his mother, Laura Mastropaolo.
The Mastropaola family adopted him in 2005, not knowing his real age or even his birthday. “Cas,” as he is affectionally called by those who know him, has endured other tragedies.
His biological parents are now dead — his mother was a victim of cholera epidemic that followed the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and his father died in the hurricane that hit the country last fall, Laura Mastropaolo said.
Despite suffering from all of that, on top of overcoming malnutrition, typhus, tuberculosis and still battling a hearing impairment, Cas has become an outstanding athlete who excels at football at Edison High School.
Edison advanced to back-to-back state semifinals in Division V in 2015 and 2016, and lost in the first round of the playoffs this past season. In those three years, the Chargers are 32-7 with two league championships.
As a junior defensive lineman in 2017, Mastropaolo finished with 34 tackles, three sacks and an interception. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown. He was an honorable mention All-Sandusky Bay Conference Bay division selection.
Mastropaola also is successful as a person, according to those who know him.
“Of all people in this world, my son is a survivor,” his mother said.
“(This is) wonderful because he is so hard working and he is such a positive person. He could be curled up in the corner in the fetal position for everything he’s been through, but he’s not. I’m glad he gets a little bit of recognition for everything he’s been through.”
“I feel excited for me and my school and my community,” Cas said. “This all means a lot.”
When discussing his past, Mastropaolo said the biggest difference he notices “is it’s not always a dark moment in America like it always is in Haiti.” Instead of focusing on that those “dark moments,” he looks to the blessings he’s received.
Mastropaolo, a Browns fan, said it was a special moment for him to meet Kizer, a Notre Dame product who started 15 games for Cleveland as a rookie last season.
“It means a lot for (DeShone) coming all the way here,” he said. “Normally, there are some people you wouldn’t expect to come all the way up here because they’re full of themselves and don’t really care about others. But he’s not like that. He seems like a really good guy.”
Kizer, who grew up in Toledo and visited his grandparents in Clyde, said his visit was twofold.
“First is being a local kid, kind of growing up in Northern Ohio, going through some of the same situations that all the high schools in this area have gone through, enduring that and experiencing that success, I wanted to do whatever I could to motivate others to do the same and follow in their steps,” Kizer said.
“Secondly, Cas’ story is unbelievable,” Kizer said. “As a motivator, as an inspiration, it was really cool to come out and meet him, hear a little bit about his story and to see that bright smile he has on his face.”
Mastropaolo said he plans to continue his football career past high school and is currently looking at colleges.
Athletic director Tom Jeffrey said Mastropaolo's work ethic and determination are a critical part in his success, both on and off the field.
“He is one of those kids who always has a smile on his face and is positive with almost everything he does,” Jeffrey said.
Head football coach Jim Hall agreed.
“Cas is a great story of perseverance,” he said. “His competitive nature and desire to excel has allowed him to overcome any obstacles he has encountered. ... He just wants to win in the worst way. He wants to succeed in the worst way.”
"The United States Marine Corps fights and wins our nation's battles. Through the MaxPreps High School Athlete of the Month program, we recognize students that embody the Marine Corps' fighting spirit and tenacity to overcome adversity,” 1st Lt. Johnny Henderson said. “These student athletes have proven to rise to the challenges they face, both on and off the field. We honor only the best and we take pride in recognizing those that rise above and have a positive influence in their community."