At the Terryville Elementary School in Port Jefferson Station on Thursday, a student asked Sharon Robinson, the daughter of trailblazing baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson, what word best described her father.
“Courage,” Robinson told the students, recalling the courage her father showed in the face of the verbal attacks and death threats after he took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to become Major League Baseball’s first black player.
“He still had to get out there and play great baseball,” Robinson said.
Robinson visited the school to congratulate fifth-grader Christian Leigh, one of 10 first-prize winners of a nationwide essay contest held by MLB’s “Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life,” a character-building educational program for students that face obstacles in their lives.
In his award-winning essay, Christian, 11, wrote about the courage he mustered leading up to his mother’s death from a pulmonary disease when he was 8 years old. “I used courage by continuing to do the things I used to do with my mom without her and staying strong with my family,” he wrote.
Established in 1997, the annual contest asks students in grades 4-9 to write essays describing obstacles they had to overcome using the virtues and values associated with Jackie Robinson, including courage, persistence and integrity.
The contest typically draws about 10,000 essays each year, but after the release last year of “42,” a film about Robinson’s baseball career, submissions shot up to a record 18,797 this year, said Kevin Moss, an administrator for Breaking Barriers.
Essay winners earn recognition for their accomplishments at their schools and MLB ballparks. The New York Mets celebrated Christian’s achievement before a game at Citi Field in April. On Thursday, he received an iPad, a laptop and a certificate of merit from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
“I didn’t think it would be like this. It’s so much. But I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened today,” Christian said on Thursday.
After her talk, Robinson fielded questions from students about everything from her fondest memory of her father to how to overcome racial discrimination.
“It’s not just for the winners, but for the whole class,” she said about her visits to the schools of the winners. “I enjoy that very much.”