"I took the theme of breaking barriers and applied it to kids," said Sharon Robinson, who is now an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. "The application is based on the fact all of us have barriers and obstacles that come into our life, so we give them Jackie Robinson's story as an example, but really we want to hear the kids' stories."
"The paring of the RBI program and the Breaking Barriers is the most incredible thing. We certainly teach baseball skills, but we want our kids to be well-rounded, self-confident, self-reliant, determined and successful in life."
The first recipient of the essay contest was Johnathan Capellan from Santiago, Dominican Republic (RBI Santiago and Villa Altagracia). Capellan, who is competing in the junior age division, wrote in his essay about the challenges of growing up in the Dominican Republic, overcoming poverty and working at such a young age to help his parents support the family.
Capellan admired his parents' work ethic and took it upon himself to instill those same core values in himself, as well as his four brothers and sisters. One thing that Capellan takes pride in is the opportunity to represent his country at the RBI World Series.
In the senior division, the essay by 17-year-old Robert Vasquez had members of the audience moved to tears. They gave him a standing ovation when Robinson announced him as the winner. Vasquez noted that his father "was taken away from his family" at a young age and "his dad made poor decisions in life resulting in losing his family."
While Vasquez's father was serving time in prison, he decided to not only be the big brother to his three younger sisters, but to be the father figure that was absent in their life. Vasquez mentioned he felt he needed to teach his sisters the right morals in life, to be independent and well-rounded kids so they could all be successful in life.
The essays aren't just beneficial for the players, with the two winners on the evening winning laptops, but the coaches learned lessons out of the contest as well.
The coach of each team selected a story to represent their team while Robinson, along with other members or the RBI program, selected a winner from the junior and senior division age groups. The coaches from Angels RBI stated that since they get to read about each one of their players' stories of adversity, it helps them better understand their players so they know how to coach and serve them to help them reach their full potential.
In addition to the Breaking Barriers essay contest, Major League Baseball rewards 12 "RBI for RBI" scholarships, totaling $20,000 per student-athlete, to deserving high school seniors that participate in an RBI program.
With now more than 230,000 young men and women in the RBI program worldwide, Major League Baseball continues to provide a path and opportunities for young athletes to excel in life, which is exactly how Robinson wants it.
"This is what my dad would have loved," she said. "He loved working with kids. So I know he would be pleased to know that his legacy is being used in a way to help kids."