Raye Cheng remembers all too clearly the words of his doctor.
“Four foot eleven,” Cheng says in his typical upbeat tone. “Actually, it was four foot eleven and a half, if I remember correctly,” adding a hearty laugh.
Cheng was heading into his sophomore year at San Marino High School but lagging behind in stature. A specialist considered putting him on medication, but a quick reference to the family tree suggested otherwise.
“My dad grew late and some of my uncles did, too,” Cheng added. “They said I was fine. I was just four years late.”
Now just a few weeks shy of graduation, Cheng has sprouted to 5’7.” And in the estimation of all who know him, he never lacked the aforementioned “stature,” even when he wasn’t very tall. His journey will come to the first of many fruitions in early July when the son of Charlene and Ted Cheng heads to West Point and the United States Military Academy.
Fully prepared for the next chapter of his life, Cheng admitted that at one point he had severe doubts about the future.
“Soccer is my main sport and I remember during my freshman year, I was considering quitting,” said Cheng. “I felt I was too far behind. I thought I couldn’t keep up. My club coach convinced me to stick with it.”
Evan Loomis is the coach who encouraged his undersized midfielder to stick with the fight, and his foresight was soon rewarded.
“Coach Loomis has played a big part in how I have turned out,” Cheng said. “He has been a big mentor for me.”
Cheng also plays volleyball at San Marino High School, and anyone familiar with the sport knows it could be called “The Land of the Giants,” but the size disparity has never sidetracked Raye. Several years ago, the sport introduced a position called the libero, a defensive specialist who can enter the game at any time but plays under substantial offensive restrictions. Though ideal for a shorter player, Cheng wanted no part of it. He’d rather mix it up at the net with the big boys.
“Entering this year, I told the coaches that if I wasn’t going to play the front row, I wasn’t playing volleyball,” Cheng explained. “We had a good libero and I didn’t want to be a defensive specialist. I love sports and I want to play. I made up my mind at the beginning of the season that I would play front row. I worked hard to improve myself. I am thankful for my athleticism. It has helped me overcome my lack of height.”
Tony Chou, who coaches the Titan varsity volleyball team, doesn’t really see a lack of anything when it comes to his starting opposite hitter.
“Raye is a great kid, all around,” Chou said. “He is very hard working and humble and he is a great leader. I have coached him for two years and I love the kid. He has earned everything he has gotten. It was a no-brainer to get him into the lineup.”
Senior Nate Wang has competed alongside Raye in youth soccer and most recently on the volleyball court. Wang long ago surrendered any doubts about Cheng’s abilities.
“Raye’s work ethic and discipline are unrivaled as far as anyone else I know,” Wang said. “I think those qualities will serve him well at West Point. It has always been so fun to play with someone who hustles as much as Raye.”
Titan varsity soccer Coach Ozzy Monroy, who wrote Cheng’s name on the starting lineup for four years, called Raye “the perfect picture of an outstanding athlete.”
“He has dedication, consistency and he puts everything he has into every play,” Monroy said of his team MVP and all-Rio Hondo League first teamer. “He understands the game at a level above everyone else. It has been a privilege to coach Raye.”
Cheng was introduced to the military academies by former Titan soccer and volleyball teammate Xavier Beck, who graduated last year. Raye was so moved that he attended the Summer Leadership Experience at West Point last year.
“The whole point is to give rising seniors a taste of what life is like at West Point,” Cheng explained. “I got to throw a grenade and shoot an M4 rifle and attend academic workshops. And we woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning, basically living life at West Point. Right then I knew I would be applying there, but it wasn’t at the top of the list.”
Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Judy Chu put Raye at the top of their list and their letters of recommendation sealed the deal.
“I think the challenges at West Point will be better for me,” said the young man who has faced and overcome challenges all his life. “I like its similarity to sports. All the downs are what make the ups that much sweeter. If I went to a civilian college, I know I would just be floating through college. West Point will be more fulfilling.”
Cheng has been in touch with Army soccer coaches and nobody should be surprised if he ends up on the varsity squad next year. Either way, his sporting days are far from over.
“One of the sayings at West Point is that every cadet is an athlete,” Cheng said.
“We are encouraged to play a sport. Whether it’s soccer or something else, I will be competing.”
Athletic skill apparently runs in the family as Raye’s brother, Ryan—a 2016 graduate of San Marino High School—attends Yale and is a member of the Bulldog tennis team.
After graduation, Cheng and all the new members of the Long Gray Line – a term which honors the West Point corps of cadets from inception to the end of time – will move on to five-years of military service.
“That’s my commitment,” he said. We’ll see what happens.”
Looking back on the struggles of his younger, height-challenged days, Cheng, instead, chose to look ahead.
“I am thankful for it as I am with everything else that has happened in my life,” he said. “It has given me a new sense of self-awareness. Without that obstacle, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
Pity anyone who tries to sell him short.