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WrestleMania: "Reading" out the winners
HOUSTON — For two hometown heroes from Houston, Christian Cervantes and Stephanie Diaz, WrestleMania was merely chapters away. The pair won the national WrestleMania Reading Challenge Finals on Saturday in an appropriate setting, the Houston Public Library. (PHOTOS)
Diaz and Cervantes -- the WrestleMania Reading Challenge Champions for grades 7 to 8 and 9 to 12, respectively -- not only secured an impressive victory on WrestleMania weekend, but also ringside seats to The Biggest Spectacle of Them All in just more than 24 hours.
"It's an unbelievable feeling; I never felt this way before about anything," exclaimed Cervantes, 15, moments after receiving a shimmering trophy. "I feel great because I am representing Houston in a good way."
He added, "Reading opens my imagination more. It expands my imagination and gives me ideas about the world."
Standing across from Cervantes with a comparably wide smile, the high schooler's fellow champion echoed the excitement of this huge event in their young lives.
"The best part was when they announced my name and said I won," explained a beaming Diaz, 14.
Presented by WWE, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and Mattel, this book-cracking competition culminated with the regional finalists answering a series of questions posed by Superstars about the books each age group read.
Layla asked the 7th and 8th grade students about Dawn Fitzgerald's "Soccer Chicks Rule" and Matt Hardy quizzed the 9th through 12th graders about "Shift" by author Jennifer Bradbury, who was also on-hand as contest judge. The youth in each group to correctly answer the most questions was declared champion.
"I'm thrilled and feel very privileged to be here," Layla said. "[The finalists are] all winners and they've all succeeded. This is a great way to celebrate reading and all the effort they've put forth."
In addition to Hardy and Layla, United States Champion MVP, Mark Henry, and of course, challenge host Jimmy Hart rallied the finalists and the morning crowd, especially the regional finalists for grades 5 to 6 and finalists from the United Kingdom who were also in attendance. (Read about all finalists)
The competition began months ago in October during Teen Read Week and included enthusiastic young readers from more than 1,800 libraries across the country. Each finalist from around the nation is a winner, brought to Houston to compete in the Reading Challenge Finals and attend WrestleMania.
"WWE cares about the kids and encourages them to read," Layla added, "but also rewards them by giving them an opportunity enjoy something amazing like WrestleMania."
The 15 students also won $2,000 for their sponsoring library and for Cervantes (of Tuttle Neighborhood Library) and Diaz (of Walter Neighborhood Library), particularly, the pride of bearing the champion.