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Breaking Barriers essay winner honored

California teen Savory wrote about overcoming challenges of absentee parents

KANSAS CITY -- Kayla Savory, a 16-year-old sophomore from Riverbank, Calif., was recognized at Kauffman Stadium before Game 2 of the World Series for being one of two grand-prize winners in the 2015 Breaking Barriers Essay Contest.

"Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" is an educational and essay writing-based program, developed by Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson and Scholastic, designed to educate students in fourth through ninth grades about Robinson's father, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Students in the program -- which has reached more than 22 million youth and 2.9 million educators in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico -- learn and write about Jackie's life values and how they can apply them to overcoming obstacles or barriers in their own lives.

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Savory researched Robinson and learned about the baseball pioneer who broke the game's color barrier in 1947. She then wrote her essay, entitled, "Rebuilding Myself," in which she described her courage, determination and commitment to overcome the challenges of having absentee parents; Savory and her younger brother live with their maternal grandmother. Savory was able to draw parallels between her life and Robinson's.

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"Jackie Robinson exhibited faithful courage, determination and commitment, three important values to have," Savory wrote. "My father unraveled my hidden courage, my mother set my determination free and my brother expressed commitment."

Despite being in a pre-advanced placement English class, Savory says writing essays is not her favorite thing.

"I didn't really like writing essays, and honestly, I still don't, but this one I was kind of excited about," Savory said. "It wasn't that hard to write, because I had already overcome it; it was more just reliving my past and bringing it up again. I wanted kids to overcome their barriers too, to be aware that they can do it, that they can do anything."

The essay submissions are reviewed by a team of editors and teachers from Scholastic, who pass the final 100 on to Sharon Robinson and a team of reviewers. Robinson says Savory's essay stood out.

"We liked that Kayla said she was 'becoming,' because that means she's still in the process, and it is important to recognize that," Robinson said. "Kayla had shown strength in that process and was honest about having more growing to do. We don't just look for the kids with the toughest backgrounds, we look at how they express themselves."

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In April, as part of her prize, Savory was given 50 tickets to a Giants game, which she attended with classmates, teachers, family and friends. It was there that she first met Sharon Robinson. Since then, Savory has developed a deep admiration for her.

"Sharon is just amazing," Savory said.

Savory has also become a baseball fan, as evidenced by her excitement as she met Hall of Famer George Brett, Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson and others on the field before Game 2.

"I love being here," she said. "I am rooting for the Royals."

Lindsay Berra is a columnist for
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