SCARSDALE, N.Y. -- One would never know that Benjamin Koch, 15, is an award winner. When Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, was in Koch's classroom on Thursday afternoon, Koch was both humble and shy, and yet he also was clearly happy that his 30 classmates at Scarsdale High School were there
SCARSDALE, N.Y. -- One would never know that Benjamin Koch, 15, is an award winner. When Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, was in Koch's classroom on Thursday afternoon, Koch was both humble and shy, and yet he also was clearly happy that his 30 classmates at Scarsdale High School were there to watch him be recognized as an MVP Award winner in Major League Baseball's Breaking Barriers essay contest.
Koch's essay described his battle with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare genetic disorder that affects 1 in 18,000 people. It most severely affects boys and men. The brain disorder destroys myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds the brain's neurons -- the nerve cells that allow us to think and to control our muscles.
Koch was one of 10 Breaking Barriers national essay winners. Benjamin received a new laptop computer -- courtesy of Microsoft -- and prizes for his class, including Breaking Barriers T-shirts and a book authored by Sharon. Koch's teacher also received a laptop.
In recognition of his accomplishment, the Yankees -- Benjamin's favorite team -- will host he and his class at Yankee Stadium for their matchup against the Athletics on May 12.
"I'm so proud of him. I knew when I met him, I didn't know he was going to win, I thought it was important that he told his story and dig deep," Robinson said. "What happened to him was extraordinary and dramatic. I wanted him to know that he is an incredible young man to not only survive [his illness], but willing to share it with other people."
Koch was honored to be recognized for an award that is affiliated with one of the greatest players in baseball history. "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" is a baseball-themed character education program developed by Major League Baseball and Scholastic Inc. Using America's sport, baseball, as the metaphor for life, the curriculum is based on the values demonstrated by Robinson, who broke the color barrier to become the first African-American player in MLB on April 15, 1947.
ALD has no cure, but stem cell treatment can be effective in stopping the progression of the disease. It has helped Koch, who now "feels amazing." He keeps busy outside the classroom, playing baseball and Ultimate Frisbee on a regular basis, and he even tried his hand at basketball. But his biggest passion is researching baseball.
Koch has big plans for the future -- and they include baseball. He would like to become a Major League general manager.
"I love baseball," Koch said. "I've always known about the Robinsons, and it's mind-blowing. If there is a book about the top 100 people who influenced baseball, Jackie Robinson would be in the first three chapters. He would be right there."
Koch uses Robinson's nine core values -- determination, commitment, persistence, integrity, justice, courage, teamwork, citizenship and excellence -- to stay positive and help him fight the disease.
Of the nine values, Koch relies heavily on teamwork. He said if it wasn't for his doctors and family, especially his brother Aaron, who passed away from ALD, he would not have survived the disease. Aaron stayed strong throughout his illness and served as an inspiration to Benjamin to fight just as hard.
"Aaron got diagnosed first, and then my parents got all of us tested," Koch said. "If he didn't get diagnosed first, they wouldn't have known my disease, either. It might have turned out the same way. He was strong until the end. That's what influenced me to stay strong."
Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.