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04/09/09 3:59 PM ET

Robinson, Rangers honor essay winner

Fifth grader wrote about hardship of having father in Iraq

ARLINGTON -- Adam Gaona spoke with the confidence of Rangers All-Star Josh Hamilton when asked if he expected to win Major League Baseball's 2009 Breaking Barriers Essay contest.

"Yes," the Dallas elementary school fifth grader simply said.

With nearly 8,000 entries submitted in the contest, Gaona, from Peak Academy in Dallas, was one of nine finalists for his efforts to overcome personal barriers using the values exemplified by baseball great Jackie Robinson.

The contest is a major component of Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life,a multi-curricular education program. Developed by Major League Baseball and Scholastic, Inc., and led by Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, the program is in its 13th year.

Sharon Robinson, who once got to read every essay when 1,000 were sent in, doesn't get to do that now, but she did get to take in Adam's, which focused on his father being off at war in Iraq for a year.

"Adam's essay best explains the anxiety a child feels when they've been separated from a parent," said Robinson, who serves as educational programming consultant for Major League Baseball. "He didn't really know what the word 'anxiety' meant, but he understands it and he did a great job of explaining it.

"My father would be so proud of him," Robinson said.

Adam wrote about having something in common with Jackie Robinson:

"My dad ... is gone very long because he is in the U.S. Army," Adam wrote, "on the other side of the world in Iraq. ... I think Jackie Robinson and I have something alike. Like the words we use to get us through our barriers ... courage. I use courage because I can't talk to my dad much. ... I I think Jackie Robinson and I are alike ... we go through our hardest and darkest moments because we have courage to get us through."

Adam's father, Adam Sr., surprised everyone by being home to share in Adam's special day at Rangers Ballpark. Dressed in his U.S. Army green, Adam Sr. said he was shocked by what Adam had to say in the essay.

"It was touching for us," Adam Sr. said. "He's had a lot of barriers."

Adam Sr. said he's ready to retire now.

"I've given 20 years of service to my country," he said. "I have to go and spend time with my family."

Young Adam got to meet several Rangers players and manager Ron Washington.

"That's amazing that a kid that young put something in writing that well," Washington said.

The Breaking Barriers Contest was open to children in grades four through eight in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, and required that they submit an essay about a barrier or obstacle that they have faced or are facing in their lives, and how they used values exemplified by Jackie Robinson to deal with those obstacles.

The values are commitment, integrity, persistence, citizenship, courage, excellence, justice, teamwork and determination.

Adam received prizes including a laptop computer and a class set of the book, "Promise to Keep," a photographic biography by Sharon Robinson.

Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.