ST. LOUIS -- Jennifer Wayland attended Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night at Busch Stadium along with her parents, Denise and Jeff, and her younger sister Lindsey.
Their mere presence was a lesson in courage.
Her introduction to a sellout crowd for Red Sox vs. Cardinals was the exclamation point.
Jennifer Wayland is a sophomore at nearby Parkway Central High School, and she just turned 16 this month. Like too many other teenage girls, she used to lie to her parents and cover up her obsession with counting calories and exercising excessively. Body image was overemphasized.
Then she broke through a barrier by mustering the courage to tell her mom and dad the truth and ask for help. She learned to love herself. The second step was sharing her own story with others and winning the grand prize from among 18,700 entries in the Breaking Barriers national essay contest run by Major League Baseball and Scholastic.
"The inspiration was the topic of the paper is supposed to be a barrier that you overcame, and that was the one that stuck out to me in my life, the one I had dealt with the past few years," Wayland said, watching the Cardinals take batting practice before Game 3. "That was kind of where the inspiration came from, and I felt like I actually had a good point to make about that. Now having won it, I just feel really grateful and really lucky, because I didn't expect to win at all.
"It started out as I just kind of wrote it to write it, and I didn't know I was going to enter it. I was going to enter something else in the contest. And then getting it out on paper, I was like, 'You know, this isn't so bad. It's kind of like in my past. I feel a lot better about sharing it now.' I felt like I was ready to do that."
As the backdrop to Game 3, MLB highlighted its commitment to youth from underserved communities all day long through community events involving Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the importance of education through the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" program, and celebrated community service through the Busch Stadium pregame presentation of the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet to Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran.
Game 4 on Sunday will look to inspire fans worldwide to join MLB and Stand Up To Cancer in advancing the fight against cancer. In Boston, Game 1 was dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans and Game 2 focused on two longtime MLB charitable partners in Boys & Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity, as well as the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
The Breaking Barriers essay contest is based on the nine values demonstrated by the great Jackie Robinson: determination, commitment, persistence, integrity, justice, courage, teamwork, citizenship and excellence. Entrants had to write about at least one of those values, and Wayland's essay was called "Just a Number."
She was one of two grand prize winners, along with Luke Lunday of West Point, N.Y., and her prize was going to the World Series. She knew it was coming all season, and it just so happened that she and her family were able to watch their favorite team for the occasion.
In the process, Wayland became an inspirational figure and a symbol of hope for so many others who are or were in her shoes.
"I'd already met Jennifer and been to her school," said Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter and the MLB educator who has taken "Breaking Barriers" to the masses over the years. "We brought her to a Cardinals event before a regular-season game, but this is another level. I wanted her to be able to travel, but how cool is it to be at your home team and root them on for a win?"
"I'm really happy that it's my home team," Wayland said. "That's great."
It was a full day Saturday for Robinson. Earlier in the morning, she spoke to hundreds of kids gathered for the RBI "Wanna Play?" youth clinic at Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club.
"We really want them to have fun playing baseball and enjoy the sport, learn skills to be confident in the game, but equally as important is to learn to read and write, and graduate from high school, go on to college and get jobs," Robinson said. "So our message was that it's not just about the game of baseball, it's about who you are as a person. We want you to build strong character as well as prepare yourself for whatever life is presented to you, because you may not all become pro baseball players, so we want you to be prepared for a life with a career that lets you support your family."
Then Robinson was over at the downtown public library, reading her book "Jackie Robinson: American Hero" to a group of young children. MLB supplied all of them with a copy of the book, and Robinson signed each after the reading. She was floored by their impressive level of interest and involvement. But then it was a "sad" moment at the end of that event that she carried with her over to the ballpark, telling the story of two girls who are learning about Jackie Robinson.
"It was very sad at the end, because my last two kids were little girls who came up to have their books signed. I said, 'Did you have fun?' One of them said, 'I just got here.' I said, 'OK. Do you know what the book is about?' She goes, 'No.' Then the other girl said, 'It's about Jackie Robinson.' And the other one says, 'Yeah, I know that but I couldn't think of his name.'
"I said, 'Oh, do you have a library -- a place where you can keep your books?' She said, 'Yes, I have four books.' So I was like, great. I signed their books. And when they left, the librarian explained to me that these two kids were homeless, and they'd come over from the shelter. They would use the library as kind of a place for them to stay, and they would come because the library was across from the shelter. I had no idea.
"It made World Series day all the more special."