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4/18/2013 5:45 P.M. ET

MLB announces Breaking Barriers essay winners

Program honoring Jackie Robinson draws record 18,700 submissions

Consider it another barrier broken.

The Breaking Barriers program, initiated in 1997, has always sought to educate people while keeping the memory of Jackie Robinson alive. And judging by the recent results, it's finally reaching critical mass. The 2013 Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life essay contest drew a record 18,700 submissions, and Major League Baseball announced the winners Thursday.

Luke Lunday, a fifth-grader from West Point, N.Y. -- the home of the United States Military Academy -- and Jennifer Wayland, a ninth-grader from Chesterfield, Mo., were named the Grand Prize winners of this year's contest. Warner Brothers Pictures, the distributor of the feature film 42, lent its support to the Breaking Barriers contest this season.

The Breaking Barriers program, developed and guided by Sharon Robinson, daughter of the legendary icon of sports and civil rights, has always been close to MLB's heart. The essay contest winners were announced right after Jackie Robinson Day, the 66th anniversary of the day Robinson broke the league's color barrier on April 15, 1947.

Breaking Barriers Essay winners
Grand Prize    
Luke Lunday, Grade 5, West Point, N.Y.    
Jennifer Wayland, Grade 9, Chesterfield, Mo.    
First Prize    
Xavier Morgan-Gillard, Grade 4, University City, Mo.    
Steven Blodgett, Grade 5, Salt Lake City    
Olivia Hurley, Grade 6, Baker, Fla.    
Arsema Tesfai, Grade 7, Chicago    
Second Prize    
Megan Fortenberry, Grade 5, Richmond, Texas    
Griffin Miller, Grade 5, West Bloomfield, Mich.    
Owen Smith, Grade 8, Princeton, N.J.    
Sydney Laws, Grade 8, Atlanta    


"The Breaking Barriers program is a wonderful way to honor Jackie Robinson's indelible legacy by educating young students about his life and values," said MLB Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. "The new feature film '42' has helped to further demonstrate how Jackie was a shining example of triumphing over adversity with honor.

"On behalf of everyone at Major League Baseball, I would like to congratulate Luke and Jennifer on their winning essays, and I thank all of this year's entrants for sharing their inspiring stories."

Selig, in an unprecedented gesture, elected to retire Robinson's No. 42 throughout the league in 1997, the same year the Breaking Barriers program originated. Scholastic has been the league's partner on the essay contest, and Robinson, the educational programming consultant for MLB, is proud of the chance she has to document her father's legacy.

"This year's record number of essays was truly phenomenal," said Sharon Robinson. "The volume and breadth of the essays speak to a number of challenges that many of our young people face, and I am honored that they used the values that my father instilled in me to overcome difficult situations in their lives.

"Luke, who has cerebral palsy, detailed his unyielding determination to learn to ride a bike without assistance. And Jennifer wrote candidly about her struggles with body image and her journey to self acceptance. I am so happy for all of our winners, and I look forward to meeting them."

Robinson will get to meet with Lunday and Wayland at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field, and then again at the 2013 World Series. Both Lunday and Wayland -- and the first prize winners, their teachers and the second-prize winners -- will receive a laptop provided by Microsoft. All winning contestants will get a set of Breaking Barriers T-shirts for their class.

Robinson's newest book, Jackie Robinson: American Hero, was published by Scholastic in March and serves as both a biography and a history lesson for young readers. Robinson's story is deeply ingrained in American culture, but Scholastic is working with MLB and Sharon Robinson to make sure that today's youth carries the story forward.

"The tremendous response to this 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 join Major League Baseball and Sharon Robinson to create a platform that lets students express themselves and engage in meaningful conversations with their teachers, peers and families."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.