The “Diamonds in the Rough” essay competition challenged youth ballplayers from ages seven to 14 to enter an essay writing competition explaining how a mentor or unsung hero helped them to find their inner strength and achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle. Twelve-year-old Niko Craniotis won the contest earning him a $5,000 grant and qualifying his essay a chance to earn the grand prize of $10,000 and a spot in a baseball clinic hosted by former New York Yankee Tino Martinez. The grand prize winner will be determined through an online vote. “I found the contest details on a select team Web site and I circulated copies among members of my son's team,” said Sheila Craniotis. “I suggested to my son that he could write about his father, who came this country not speaking the language.” She said that Niko had his own idea. He proceeded to write a story about his best friend, neighbor and teammate, Frankie Shiha, nicknamed 'Double-Trouble.' Niko attends Riverwood Middle School and Frankie attends Willow Creek Elementary. The boys have known each other since they were three. The two met at St. Martha's preschool and played coach-pitch, not tee-ball, together. Niko's 300-word essay tells the story of his friend, Franky, whose leg was crushed in a terrible accident. Niko was inspired by his friend's struggle to return to baseball. Today, both boys play for the select team, the Lake Houston Gators. The Gators are comprised of players from the Lake Houston area, including Kingwood, Atascocita and Humble. “I was thrilled to hear that judges from Briggs & Stratton and the Milwaukee Brewers organization had chosen my son's essay,” said Craniotis. She added that her son will be interviewed by ABC news and the interview will be broadcast on various ABC affiliates at a time not yet determined. Niko was one of 12 regional winners and the only child chosen to participate in the interview. “I was surprised that my essay won,” said Niko. “And I'm excited about the interview. I'm not nervous about the interview because I'm not a shy person and I'll have Frankie there with me.” Frankie said that he was proud that his friend had named him as his unsung hero and that he was also surprised because people usually chose an adult at the person they look up to. Niko said that the $5,000 he was awarded will be used to benefit the team. He said that their field needed some work and that the team would use some of the money to sponsor kids who could not afford baseball camps. Online voting ends May 24. Until that time, essays can be read on line and votes can be cast at Photo: Niko Craniotis (left) wins $5,000 in the “Diamond in the Rough” essay writing contest. His essay tells of his best friend Frankie Silha, who overcame a serious leg injury and serves as an inspiration to all.

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