'Breaking Barriers' honors Mass. kid
Like Lester, Clarke, whose essay won first place, beat cancer
BOSTON -- When Jon Lester threw his no-hitter on Monday, John Clarke was paying very close attention in his Milton, Mass., home.
The 13-year-old seventh grader at Charles Pierce Middle School was getting ready to receive an honor from Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson's daughter on Tuesday for an essay he wrote about overcome personal barriers in his life.
Both Clarke and Lester are lymphoma survivors. On Tuesday, the two met before the Red Sox-Royals game at Fenway Park.
Sharon Robinson made the trip to the suburb just south of Boston to award the first prize in "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" presented by Major League Baseball and Scholastic. Following the afternoon ceremony in Milton, Robinson and Clarke were recognized in a pregame ceremony just before Tuesday's first pitch.
"I really feel like character was so important in my father's selection," Robinson said. "My message to kids is that you can have talent, but without strong character to go with it, your achievement is still going to be limited."
Clarke used three of Jackie Robinson's nine values to pen the essay on overcoming adversity. The Red Sox fan wrote about how courage, determination and teamwork helped him deal with a diagnosis of lymphoma when he was just 8 years old.
"It feels good to express it and let it out," Clarke said of his essay, a copy of which was autographed by the youngster for Lester.
On Tuesday, Clarke had a chance to express himself -- face-to-face with Lester.
"Probably just being guests of honor, I [want] to ask him what he felt like and try to compare to what I've been though," Clarke said of his biggest thrill.
Just 13 years old, Clarke has paid very close attention to what Lester has accomplished since being diagnosed with the large cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in September 2006.
"It was pretty amazing to see how he came back like that after what he had been through," Clarke said. "My dad actually mentioned it, 'He's just like you, John.'"
Another father would have been proud of Clarke, too. Sharon Robinson's father broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947. Exactly 48 years later to the day, John Clarke was born.
"It's so good for him to get a win in his life," George Clarke said in watching his son receive the prestigious award on Tuesday. "He's had a tough struggle. Organizations like Major League Baseball, you just don't know how important it is for organizations like that to reach out and touch kids, ill from whatever kind of disease."
Also on hand were Clarke's mother, Donna, and his 11-year-old sister, Meredith.
Clarke was chosen among 11,640 entries nationwide. He and his class each received a laptop as first prize. The school then announced that the class laptop would be donated to Children's Hospital in Boston.
Amanda Best of Huntington Beach, Calif., was awarded the grand prize, and she will accompany Robinson to the MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15. In addition to Clarke, there were three other first-place winners nationwide, one more in grades 6-8 and two in grades 4-5.
"My father had the character, had the athletic ability, but he was given the opportunity to break the color barrier," Sharon Robinson said. "I think my dad would absolutely love the way we're involving younger kids in using his message to inspire other younger kids to build stronger character."
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.