WESTPORT — When NFL player Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel in protest during the national anthem in 2016, it sparked heated debate over the merits of the professional athlete’s dissent.

Two years later, in Westport, the debate continues.

On Monday, Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism Westport announced the winners of its 2018 Teen Diversity Essay Contest at the Westport Library.

In the context of Kaepernick and other professional athletes who have used their platform to advance certain causes, Staples High School entrants were asked to “describe your understanding of what it means to be a patriot; what kinds of behavior you think would be unpatriotic and what forms of protest against discriminatory laws, customs or patterns of behavior you would consider legitimate.”

A total of 19 essays were received this year, according to TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey, down from the more than 25 submissions to last year’s contest, which elicited threatening calls and emails from people across the country angered at the prompt’s inquisition into white privilege and its effects on the lives of Westport students. Bailey guessed students may have been distracted from the essay topic by the shooting in Parkland, Fla., and subsequent conversations about school safety that have raged in recent months.

The numbers were less, but the quality of submissions did not suffer.

Henry Carter, a 17-year-old Staples senior, took home first place and $1,000 for his essay, “The Ill-Considered Nature of Our Discussion of Patriotism.”

“I guess I brought a unique perspective to the issue. I worked really hard on the sentence structure and making sure I used a lot of vocabulary,” said Carter, who said this was the first writing contest he has entered, but enjoys writing about social and political issues.

“Different things stood out about each essay,” said Judith Hamer, one of a team of five essay contest judges.

Hamer and Bailey said they were impressed with the nuances explored in Carter’s arguments and the way in which he put liberals and conservatives under the microscope.

“From my perspective, what he did was really call out both sides,” Bailey said.

Melanie Lust, a 16-year-old junior, who was awarded second place and $750, took a different, but similarly effective, approach in “The Patriotism of Protest.”

“The second one was really poetic. Her opening was amazing,” Hamer said.

In a series of short opening paragraphs, Lust set out to paint a complex picture of what it means to be American.

“I knew I wanted to open with something that was nontraditional. I really wanted it to stand out, which is why I didn’t want to do the normal thesis-style opening,” Lust said.

This year, for the first time since the essay contest began five years ago, the judges named an honorable mention.

“We went back and forth. We read the essays separately and scored them against a rubric, then we got together and sometimes deciding who got first-, second- or third-place didn’t line up,” Hamer said. “In years past it was obvious, but this time it took us two hours because we went back and forth between third and fourth place.”

Junior Sophie Driscoll was ultimately awarded third place and $500 for her essay, “Patriots Exercise and Defend Essential Freedoms,” while freshman Rachel Suggs, 15, took honorable mention. Suggs was the youngest writer recognized and said she planned to participate in the contest next year as well.

“I write to impact others and their point of view. Not to change it, but to talk about it and get ideas out there,” Suggs said. “I was very grateful that there was an audience there that listened to me and took it in.”