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Breaking Barriers essay winners a courageous duo

Fourth grader, high school freshman to be recognized at ASG, World Series

An essay about overcoming school bullying due to stuttering and a courageous account of growing up in a difficult home environment were selected as the two Grand Prize winners from more than 16,000 entries in the 2015 Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Essay Contest, announced Tuesday by Major League Baseball and Scholastic.

Malcolm Venable, a fourth-grader from New Orleans and member of the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy, was selected for his essay about bullying. Kayla Savory, a ninth-grade student from Riverbank, Calif., won the other top prize for an essay describing her courage, determination and commitment to overcome domestic turmoil.

MLB educational programming consultant and author Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, will join Venable and Savory when they are recognized at the 86th All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and at the 2015 World Series, respectively.

"Major League Baseball is proud to recognize these ten students, who demonstrated extraordinary bravery and maturity in describing challenges they have faced in their lives," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Jackie Robinson's example of breaking barriers continues to inspire people of all ages and this program is a wonderful testament to his enduring legacy and impact on all of us today. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate all the winners of this year's essay contest, and I am looking forward to meeting Malcolm and Kayla."

"Once again, we had the difficult task of whittling down more than 16,000 inspirational essays to ten national winners," Sharon Robinson said. "Starting next week, we will celebrate the top winners in their schools and in Major League ballparks. Malcolm and Kayla's stories reflect the strength of character and resilience of our children. Many thanks to MLB, Scholastic and Church & Dwight for their continued support of the Breaking Barriers program."

All Grand, First and Second Prize winners will receive a laptop computer, provided by Microsoft, as well as a set of Breaking Barriers T-shirts for their class and a book written by Sharon Robinson. All teachers of the winning students will receive a tablet.

Celebrating its 19th year, the Breaking Barriers essay contest has reached more than 22 million children and 2.9 million educators in the continental U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. It asks students in grades four through nine to submit an essay describing their experiences in overcoming barriers or obstacles they have faced, or are still facing in their lives, by using the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson as he broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. These values are citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork.

The list of national winners includes:

First Prize: Aidan Hamilton, Grade 5, Lakewood, Colo.; Sophia Renaud, Grade 5, Perth, N.Y.; Debra Moraitis, Grade 8, Bloomfield, Mich.; and Caleb Smith, Grade 8, Davidson, N.C.

Second Prize: Bizunesh Keith, Grade 5, Marietta, Ga.; Garrett Dempsey, Grade 5, Park Hills, Mo.; Brianna Guzman, Grade 8, Milwaukee, Wis.; and XinHui Ooi, Grade 8, Edinburg, Texas.

"The tremendous response to this education program and contest shows how Jackie Robinson is an inspiration to students, encouraging them to write about their personal barriers in life," said Ann Amstutz Hayes, senior vice president at Scholastic. "Scholastic is proud to once again have joined Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson and Church & Dwight to create a platform that lets students express themselves and engage in meaningful conversations with their teachers, peers and families."

Church & Dwight is making an annual donation of $150,000 to the Breaking Barriers program through 2016.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.