On the surface, it doesn’t appear that Sophia Renaud, a fifth-grade student at Broadalbin-Perth Intermediate School, has much in common with civil rights activist and Baseball Hall of Fame member Jackie Robinson.
But after reading Renaud’s essay that was selected as a winner in the Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers essay contest, Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, says the fifth-grader’s confidence and eloquence are reminiscent of her late father.
Renaud’s essay was one of 10 selected among 16,000 youngsters who participated in the national contest. On Monday she was honored during two assemblies at the school, in which Sharon Robinson also addressed the student body.
The Breaking Barriers contest was started in 1997 and has reached more than 22 million children.
“This young woman is so impressive because she is just in the fifth grade,” Robinson told The Daily Gazette. “She understands the nuances of Jackie Robinson and not just that he was a great baseball player and broke the color barrier.”
Robinson also signed dozens of copies of her book, “Promises to Keep,” for students at the school.
In her essay, Renaud discussed how she has had to overcome Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, a form of arthritis that affects children and adolescents.
“I overcame my barrier by being determined, having courage and persistence,” the two-page essay reads. “Just like Jackie, I overcame an obstacle and didn’t give up.”
Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. On that day, the Dodgers ended racial segregation in Major League Baseball that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues since the 1880s. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Renaud said she didn’t know much about the competition until a teacher told her that she should submit an essay.
“I have followed Jackie Robinson and I knew about his struggle and breaking the color barrier and everything that he went through while he was in the major leagues,” she said. “I thought it would be a good chance to learn more about him and talk about my own struggles.”
Renaud said the arthritis has limited her activity and made it difficult for her to motivate herself to exercise and practice her favorite sport, soccer.
“It’s not always fun being one of the slower kids while my sister was fast. But I was persistent and didn’t give up hope,” she said, noting that she is now faster than her sister and has made a commitment to exercise daily.
After spending a good portion of the day with Renaud, Robinson said she was impressed with the fifth-grader’s poise and attention to detail.
“You really could be anything you want, you are such a great speaker,” Robinson said. “I mean it, you could be a teacher, the president of a company, or even the president of the United States.”
Renaud said she was star-struck when she first saw Robinson and hopes the two will stay in touch in the future.
Dan Casey, principal of Broadalbin-Perth Intermediate, said Robinson’s visit to the school was an outstanding learning opportunity for the students.
“Actually, the fifth-graders are learning about Jackie Robinson and what he stood for, so her visit tied in nicely with our curriculum,” he said. “We are all so proud of Sophia and what she has accomplished.”