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Cleveland Student Wins Top Prize in Essay Contest

A 9-year-old Cleveland girl landed the top prize in a Major League Baseball essay contest, earning her the chance to spend the day with Jackie Robinson's daughter and throw out the first pitch at the Milwaukee Brewers' game on Tuesday night. Natalie Meiselwitz, a fourth-grader at Cleveland Elementary, won top honors in the 13th annual "Breaking the Barriers" essay contest.

To view a PDF of Natalie's award-winning essay, click HERE.

About 8,000 fourth- through eighth-graders from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico sent in essays earlier this year describing the challenges they have faced in life and how they overcame them.

Natalie - whose prize package also includes a laptop computer, a personal visit with Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and a trip to the All-Star game in St. Louis this summer - wrote a three-page essay called "Open Heart Surgery."

She detailed the sudden discovery of a heart defect, how she underwent open-heart surgery in December and how she found courage and strength in her family.

"My story is hard to believe, and I write it with tears coming down my face because I am here to tell you the story of me," she wrote. "I am a 9-year-old girl who had her broken heart fixed."

Jackie Breaks The Barrier
Sharon Robinson - who visited Cleveland for an all-school assembly on Tuesday morning - created the essay contest in honor of her father, Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in the modern era of Major League Baseball.

He debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, ending nearly 64 years of segregation. Baseball players celebrated the 62nd anniversary of his breakthrough earlier this month by hitting the field wearing jerseys bearing Robinson's uniform number 42.

Sharon Robinson, 59, compared Natalie to her father, and called it especially impressive that Natalie kept her sights on her love of her family and her dreams of becoming a doctor.

Jackie Robinson, who fought his own heart troubles and died in 1972 after a heart attack at the age of 53, would have appreciated seeing Natalie overcome a short-term obstacle to reach her long-term goals, Sharon Robinson said.

"The fact that these kids are learning about him, learning about his character, but then translating it to their own lives, I think he would be very, very proud," she said. "He would have adored Natalie."

'A Bonus At The End'
On April 1, Sharon Robinson called Natalie to tell her she won the international contest. Natalie handed the phone to a teacher before screaming.
"I was really happy, and tears of joy were coming down my face," Natalie said. "It's kind of nerve-racking, but yet so cool at the same time."

During her appearance at the school - which also included cameos from the Klement's Famous Racing Sausages mascots - Sharon Robinson spoke about her father's breakthrough, asked the students questions about overcoming their own barriers and read Natalie's essay aloud.

"Breaking the Barriers" uses baseball as a metaphor for life and has reached more than 14 million students. Judges grade essays on how well the students described their barrier and whether the student responded with values like courage, determination, integrity and teamwork.

Donna Meiselwitz, Natalie's mother, wiped tears from her and called the last few months overwhelming. She said she encouraged her daughter to write the essay to vent her feelings after leaving the hospital.

"I never in my wildest dreams - this is just kind of a bonus at the end," Donna Meiselwitz said. "I remember reading it at my desk, and I was crying and I was happy that she put that on paper. She poured her heart into that essay."

Sheboygan Press Article - Kate McGinty

Sheboygan Area School District Press Release
April 28, 2009