Kayla Savory didn’t know much about Jackie Robinson until she had to write a paper for the Breaking Barriers essay contest, co-sponsored by Major League Baseball and Scholastic publishing.
After researching the baseball pioneer, who broke the game’s color barrier in 1947, the 15-year-old Riverbank freshman discovered they had much in common. Her essay, titled “Rebuilding Myself,” detailed growing up in a broken home and her battle to overcome the barriers created by absentee parents (she and her younger brother live with their maternal grandmother).
Now, Kayla and Robinson have one more thing in common – they’re both winners.
Her essay, one of 16,000 submitted by ninth-graders around the nation, captured the grand prize. She received a congratulatory phone call from Sharon Robinson, daughter of the Hall of Fame player who guided the Brooklyn Dodgers to their one and only world championship, in 1955.
“It felt amazing talking to her,” said Kayla, who has twinkling brown eyes and shoulder-length, light-brown hair. “I never thought it would happen. I got caught in the moment when I was talking to her and I was like, ‘Is this real?’”
Kayla will get to meet Robinson’s daughter at AT&T Park on Sunday, when she’ll be honored before the Giants’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
She won’t be alone. Kayla’s prize includes 50 tickets to the game, so classmates, teachers, friends and family will get to enjoy the festivities.
But that’s not all. She’ll also receive a laptop computer and a three-day, two-night trip to the World Series.
Kayla’s Pre-Advanced Placement English teacher, Stacy Bauer, will receive an electronic tablet, and the entire class will get T-shirts and copies of Sharon Robinson’s book, “Promises to Keep.”
“We’re hoping we can get her to autograph them when we meet her Sunday,” Bauer said.
Kayla, a native of Modesto, moved with her family to Olympia, Wash., when she was a toddler. Her home life was not stable, and three years ago, her grandmother, Sheryl Moore, was granted custody.
“We didn’t have any idea she could write like this,” Moore said. “We are very, very proud of her.”
Kayla credits the tumult she experienced as a youngster with helping her become the person she is today. In her essay, she writes:
“(Jackie Robinson) exhibited faithful courage, determination and commitment, three important values to have. My father unraveled my hidden courage, my mother set my determination free, and my brother expressed commitment.”
By Kayla’s admission, she was one of the least-prepared students to handle the rigors of Pre-AP English.
“At the beginning of the year, my grammar sucked,” said Kayla, who would one day like to be a paramedic. “I barely knew the difference between T-O and T-O-O.”
But according to Bauer, Kayla has worked hard to become a top student.
“Pre-AP has been a challenge for Kayla,” Bauer said. “She’s had to work hard, and I get a lot of emails from Kayla. But if you give her direction, she’ll follow it. I was glad to see that she used allusion and metaphor and all the other things we’ve used in this class in her essay.”
Kayla said she usually labors over essays. But she received sound advice from classmate Katie Larson.
“She’ll usually FaceTime me and say, ‘Katie, it took me forever to write this one paragraph,’” said Katie, 15. “I told her, ‘Just write … fix it later.’”
And that’s exactly what Kayla did.
“She’s not the best writer in this class, and she knows that,” said Bauer, who also has Kayla in her drama class. “But she rewrote and rewrote and polished until she had a story.”
Bauer said she’ll often find essay contests for her students, though she normally doesn’t make them enter. With Breaking Barriers, she insisted.
“When Mrs. Bauer assigns an essay, I just want to get it finished and get a grade,” Kayla said. “This one was different. I knew what I wanted to write about.”
Breaking Barriers, now in its 18th year, is a baseball-themed character education program developed by Major League Baseball and Scholastic Corp., according to MLB.com. Using baseball as a metaphor for life, the curriculum is based on the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson.