SYLACAUGA, Ala.- In mid-February, thousands of students from across the nation, and all NLMS seventh grade students submitted essays in the Scholastic Breaking Barriers Contest. Students were required to write the essay following a short unit covering Major League Baseball’s first African-American baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and the values he used to overcome barriers in his life and career.

Robinson was playing in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs when he was chosen by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to integrate the MLB. Robinson started in the Dodgers farm system with the Montreal Royals in 1946 before getting called up to the Dodgers in 1947. As many know, Robinson faced various types of discrimination and trials in his career.

In the students’ essays, they had to explain how they used the values Robinson used in his career to overcome a barrier in their own lives. After the essays were reviewed the winner was announced, and the winner’s name is Tank Wright.

Tank’s essay is a story which will pull on the heart strings of many, and one that relates to almost everyone in today’s society. His story is one that manifests the values of courage, commitment, perseverance and determination. It features the heartbreaking story of losing his father to cancer at a young age. “I picked something that was really close to my heart,” Tank stated with tears in his eyes. “My dad was always there for me, and he was just the perfect dad.”

You can read Tank’s story here:

Breaking Barriers Essay

In 2008, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma skin cancer. I didn’t think much about it, since I was only six years old and didn’t really know what cancer was. My mother told me that he was not going to die; he was going to be okay. Looking back on this time in my life, I realize that I used two of Jackie Robinson’s most important values: courage and determination.

After visiting a lot of doctors and talking to what felt like millions of experts, my father decided to do an experimental cancer treatment at UAB hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. This treatment made him really sick, and it was really hard to see my dad so sick. Every day, my mother and my sister had to clean his port area, an IV-like place in his arm that put medicine straight into his bloodstream. It was not easy for them or for me. I helped him by just sitting and talking with him, watching football with him, encouraging him to eat, and spending time just hanging out with him. It took a lot of courage for me to watch my dad be so sick and still keep going on with our everyday lives, but I was determined to do it for him.

Six months passed, and my father went back for a scan to see if he was cancer free. He was! He actually was! He did it! We did it as a team with determination. We beat cancer! I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it.  It was all over, and I could move on and not have to worry about life without a father.

Even though my father was sick for a few months, he did get better. Jackie Robinson isn’t the only person to have determination. My dad had it, and he taught me to have it, too. Even though he was still pretty weak, my dad and I were determined to spend as much fun-time together as possible. We went to football games together. He watched all my baseball games sitting under a tent out of the sun. We even went on an awesome father-son trip to Washington, D. C. He and I were determined to have fun together and not waste any time. I know now that my dad was determined to make memories with me that I could have for the rest of my life.

About a year passed, and dad got really sick. We took him to the doctor, and they ran some tests and told us that the cancer was back. That it had never left. We were all so confused. The doctor told us he was cancer free. Had he lied? I know now that the kind of cancer he had never really goes away. Now I really had to have courage, because we would have to go through all the bad stuff again. But, I was also determined to help my father beat it again. He helped me so much through my life, and it was time to give it all back. I tried my best to spend time with him and love him as much as I could. My counselor at school helped me a lot by just letting me talk and figure out how to have courage with all the pain. She was very nice about it. My mom also helped, but my sister helped the most. With us being the only children, we always had each other’s backs. We knew just how to cheer each other up when we felt bad and how to make each other laugh, but most of all, my sister encouraged me to be determined and courageous on the days when I felt like I couldn’t be anymore.

In October 2014, I needed all my courage and determination. My dad had been on hospice (that’s a nursing program that helps people feel more comfortable so they can die at home) for three months when he told my mom that he couldn’t stand the pain anymore. It took a lot of courage for him to decide this, and it took a lot of courage for me to hear it. See, his cancer had spread to just about everywhere: his kidneys, lungs, liver, and brain. He was in a lot of pain. It even hurt him to be touched. I couldn’t hug him anymore, or cuddle with him, or play our favorite game “Tickle Monster.” But I still sat with him whenever I could, because I was determined to spend every second just being with him. On October 15, I said goodbye to my dad. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took all the courage I had. When I left the hospital that last night he told me to always remember to do my best and be tough and never, ever give up and never forget that he loves me to the moon and back. He passed away the next morning, October 16.

Jackie Robinson had to go through a lot of really hard things to do what he wanted to do. Just like Jackie Robinson, I had to rely on courage and determination during my dad’s fight with cancer, and I still have to rely on that courage just to get through the day. Courage and determination aren’t just words for me. I’ve had to live them; especially the last three years. Jackie Robinson became one of the best and most famous baseball players of all time by being determined and courageous. It wasn’t always easy for him or for me. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that life isn’t as sweet as people say it is, but don’t worry it will get better. It may not get better tomorrow, next week, or even years from now. But I promise you this: it will get better. Courage and determination can get you through a lot of hard stuff, especially if you remember the advice my dad gave me, “Never, ever, ever give up.”

Tank’s essay was more than deserving of winning the competition, and also worthy of the prizes which came with it. The top prize and most appealing is a three day-two night trip to a Major League Baseball World Series game in October. Tank told SylacaugaNews.com he is not a die-hard baseball fan but is looking forward to the 2017 World Series. Tank said he is okay with any two teams making the Series, but the Braves, stating “I’ve been to Atlanta too many times.” He said his prime destinations would be Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Oakland and Miami.

Other prizes include a laptop for himself and his teacher Emily McLain. His prizes have a total value of $7,7650.

On top of those prizes, NLMS will receive a visit from Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon. McLain told SylacaugaNews.com she will visit the school and speak to the seventh grade in the school gym on Monday, April 24, at 7:40 a.m.

Jeremy Law for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2017, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.