Twelve women to compete for Miss Delaware crown

Joanna Wicks is crowned Miss Delaware 2018 last year at Cape Henlopen High School. (Delaware State News file photo)

LEWES — On June 15, the 78th Miss Delaware will be crowned at Cape Henlopen High School.

Twelve young women from across the state are vying for the title this year. Some have been waiting years to take the stage at the competition while others are new to the game.

Miss Sussex County, Taylor Johnson, 24, of Laurel has only been on the pageant circuit for about three years.

“I went to see my friend Jenna Hitchens perform and thought this is something I could really see myself doing,” she said. “I’ve always been a vocalist and after high school, there weren’t many outlets for performing, so pageants have filled that need for me.”

Miss Talleyville, Jenna Hitchens, 24, of Georgetown, is one of the most experienced competitors, having competed in pageants beginning when she was only a year old.

Jenna Hitchens, of Georgetown, performs during last year’s Miss Delaware Competition. She will compete this year as Miss Talleyville. (Delaware State News file photo)

“I was one of those little kids that started crying once you took me off the stage,” she said. “I really love performing so it’s always a great opportunity to dance on stage, which is something I’ve been doing since I was three.”

All the young women come into the competition with a platform they’re passionate about and many of them chose based on issues that have affected their lives.

Ms. Johnson chose her platform, “Protect the Skin You’re in. Melanoma Awareness” after her mother was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“I think it’s a topic that affects a lot of people but not many think it’s something that would happen to them,” she said.

Taylor Johnson

“I want people to rethink tanning and consider how they can protect themselves from skin cancer, especially after seeing how it’s affected one of the people I love the most.”

Miss Northern Delaware, Emalie Lawson, 22, of Hartly, is advocating for suicide awareness and prevention after losing her cousin to suicide after he returned from a tour in Iraq.

“The stigma of living with depression is something that needs to be broken and people need to know it’s OK for them to talk about it,” she said.

“Suicide is more prevalent than what you might expect, especially in the military community and it shows a lot of room for improvement for mental health services, which is what I’d advocate for as Miss Delaware.”

Ms. Hitchens’ platform is “Victim to Victor: Helping Sexual Abuse Victims Find their Voice.

“One in four women will experience sexual abuse before turning 18 and only six in 1,000 abusers go to jail for their crimes,” she said. “I was a victim of sexual abuse and even though it can be an uncomfortable topic, it’s something that needs to be discussed more openly because victims are so much more than survivors.”

Miss First State, Danielle Taylor, 21, has the platform of “The Crown CARES: Creating a Respectful Environment in Schools.

“I was bullied beginning at age 7 and it was something that followed me throughout most of my childhood,” she said. “There is a zero-tolerance policy on bullying in Delaware but it’s not as effective as it could be and fights, depression and suicide can stem from bullying in schools, which is something that can be prevented. We need kids to learn there are ways to peacefully interact with others they consider different”

While much of the competition remains what one would expect, this year the Miss America Organization has rebranded as Miss America 2.0, which excludes the swimsuit portion of the competition to promote inclusiveness and emphasize contestants’ community services, achievements and more.

Danielle Taylor

“I think that the community service aspect has been one of my favorite parts about being involved in pageants,” Ms. Taylor said. “My mom has always taught me to give back to the less fortunate because one day we could be the unfortunate ones hoping someone is on the other side to help us out of that place.”

Contestants like Ms. Lawson practice regularly for the on-stage question portion of the competition, which is the most difficult to prepare for.

“I do a lot of mock interviews with a panel to get comfortable answering questions with an audience and it helps me be prepared for any topic that comes my way because they’re never easy questions and could be hotly debated or controversial issues,” she said.

Competition week is full of hard work, preparing for the talent, coordinating an opening number with all the girls, but there’s still time for fun – at Rehoboth’s Funland.

Emalie Lawson

“It’s great to have a few days with all the girls here,” Ms. Hitchens said. “My favorite part of pageant week and something I think everyone really loves is going to Funland. It’s something that was a fun part of many of our childhoods and we get to have it to ourselves for just a little while.”

Although most of this year’s contestants have competed for the crown before, they agreed that the competition doesn’t get easier with experience.

“The judges at the Miss Delaware competition are always of really high caliber and evaluate you to a higher level than any of our other pageants’ judges,” Ms. Taylor said. “It’s great though because they know their stuff and that encourages you to prepare very seriously and thoroughly.”

Despite the hard work required, for the contestants, pageants have remained a part of their lives due to the friendships they’ve built along the way and the opportunities made available to them.

“This year, there is $35,000 in scholarships that will be awarded and creating that kind of opportunity for all these girls who’ve worked so hard is something we’re extremely proud of,” said Becky Rappoccio, Miss Delaware 2005.

Many of the women have been earning scholarship money over their years of competing and thanks to the pageant system, those like Ms. Hitchens have been able to earn a bachelors’ degree debt-free. She’s now working toward a masters’ degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Since her crowning, Ms. Rappoccio has become co-chair of the Miss Delaware Forevers and remains involved in the Miss Delaware Organization and the pageant system in her new state of Connecticut.

“I really believe in what the Miss America Organization stands for. Promoting the achievements of young women and preparing them to be successful in their careers and encouraging them to be leaders in their communities,” Ms. Rappoccio said. “And through the system, life-long friendships are made.”

Hosting this year’s competition, which starts at 7 p.m., is Linda Kurtz Risk, Miss Delaware 2004. The organization will also bid a fond farewell to Joanna Wicks, Miss Delaware 2018. For more ticket information and to learn more about all of the contestants, visit missde.org.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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