MINNEAPOLIS -- Mariah Campbell knows a thing or two about breaking barriers.
Whether it was playing baseball with the boys, rebounding from the loss of her grandmother or finding a new sport to excel in after being cut from her high school team, Campbell has shown a knack for overcoming the odds.
So it was fitting that Sharon Robinson -- the daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson -- announced Campbell on Monday as the winner of the Breaking Barriers essay contest among softball participants in the 2012 Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities World Series. Coaches from all eight participating teams selected the top essay from their team. Robinson and others chose the entry from RBI Atlanta's Campbell as the best among the eight finalists.
The Breaking Barriers essay contests calls on youngsters to communicate obstacles they've faced and the strategies they've used to overcome them.
"We felt [Campbell] set the tone for who we hoped you all will be," Robinson said in front of all the 2012 RBI World Series softball players at Monday's opening banquet. "Confident and talented and determined. Out there working in the community as well as doing your schoolwork and getting prepared for college and loving your experience in sports. Our winner today is all-around.
"I thought our young lady today showed a lot of signs of a hero in the making."
The 19-year-old Campbell said it was surreal to hear Robinson announce her name as the winner.
"I was surprised," she said. "I wrote to win. But it was a shock.
"I can't even describe it -- amazing. I was very honored. It means so, so much."
Campbell played baseball with boys since the age of 4, primarily because her older brother played and it was easiest for their mother if both of them were at the same practices and games.
"He was just fortunate enough that I was in the infield at second base and not taking his spot in the outfield," Campbell wrote in her essay.
Campbell started at second base for her high school team from her freshman through junior seasons. Prior to her junior year, her grandmother passed away. Campbell said the two were incredibly close, and she had lived with her since being born.
Then she was cut from baseball squad before her senior season.
But instead of quitting entirely, Campbell tried her hand at being a soccer goalkeeper, where she succeeded. She's also finally given softball a shot, much to the delight of RBI Atlanta coach Richard Lee.
"We tried to get her a long time ago, but she decided she wanted to do baseball," Lee said. "Finally we got her -- she has a good attitude and works hard.
Despite what Campbell may provide athletically -- she went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in Atlanta's 11-1 round-robin win over Matthews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club RBI on Tuesday -- Lee said leadership is her best quality.
"Anything you ask her to do, she will do it," Lee said. "She will be patient enough. She'll play anywhere we want her to play. It's huge."
Campbell likely isn't yet done breaking barriers. She is entering her second year at Georgia State, where she is studying kinesiology in hopes of becoming an athletic trainer. Though she unsuccessfully tried out for the school's softball team last year, she will do so again before next season. She also has a keen interest in coaching, particularly breaking into a male sport as a female coach.
Most of all, Campbell simply wants to effect change.
"I really, really want to make a difference," she said. "There's so many kids that need a change or something other than what they're used to. I think I can be that."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.