ball legend's daughter pitches father's fundamental ideals to kidsIn baseball, the ideal number is nine. There are nine innings, nine players and 90 feet between bases. It should be no surprise that Sharon Robinson, daughter of legendary baseball hero and American icon Jackie Robinson, chooses that special number to celebrate the values her father exemplified in his daily life in her new book, Jackie's Nine.
Raised in suburban Connecticut, Robinson was only six years old when her father retired from baseball and just 12 when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Growing up, she never fully realized the importance of having a father who was known worldwide for breaking the color barrier in baseball. Instead, she saw him for what he was to her, a soft-spoken giant who practiced courage, determination, commitment, persistence, integrity, justice, teamwork, citizenship and excellence every day of his life. Robinson attributes her father's success to these nine values and believes that by sharing these fundamental ideals with the young people of the world, she can help them overcome obstacles.
And share she does. Robinson, director of educational programming for Major League Baseball, has spent the last four years creating and managing MLB's national character education initiative, Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life, a program designed to empower students with strategies to help them deal with the challenges they face, day in and day out. A former nurse-midwife and educator who has taught at such prestigious universities as Yale, Columbia and Georgetown, Robinson has created an entire curriculum that allows teachers to apply baseball concepts to the academics and social skills they teach. "It gives us a chance to show that learning can be fun and not torturous," says Robinson. "If we can get them to enjoy what they're doing, then they will want to learn."But school curriculum building is not the only aspect of Breaking Barriers. Each year, Robinson heads up an essay contest. The winning students are not only honored during a Major League Baseball game (a once-in-a-lifetime event in itself!), but Robinson also brings the real-life baseball greats to their schools. From April to June, Robinson visits 22 schools throughout the nation, baseball stars in tow. Players such as Jose Cruz and Ken Griffey, Jr., are not on hand just to sign autographs, they are there to share their tales of triumph over adversity. Whether it's facing down the league's toughest pitcher, overcoming injuries and physical deformities, working together with their teammates or striving for excellence in their own game, each player highlights the values that Jackie Robinson, the hero himself, exemplified.
The program targets students 9-14 years old. "Kids are going from junior high where parents have a lot of control to high school where peers have the majority of control," Robinson explains. She firmly believes that this is the age group where buying into fundamental values will make a positive, significant impact on a child's future. In Jackie's Nine, Robinson shows that even the mightiest, successful men and women in history have had to overcome obstacles. Each chapter highlights one of the nine values with stories about heroes, sheroes and icons like Michael Jordan, Christopher Reeve and Oprah Winfrey. A book packed with big names and classic photos, this is not a "celebrity book." Robinson writes comfortably on the preteen/teen level, demonstrating that throughout a person's challenges and adversities, it is the values they maintain that matters the most.
One of the most important values to Robinson herself is citizenship. "I use the term citizenship, instead of sportsmanship or respect," she explains, "because I want them to understand that they are part of a larger world. It's not just an idea of treating your mother and father with respect, but of understanding that you have some responsibility in the world." Robinson understands this concept wholeheartedly. Her Breaking Barriers program has reached over one million children across the United States and Canada, and Jackie's Nine will, no doubt, reach many more.
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