Miss Delaware to be crowned this weekend

LEWES — Miss Delaware 2016, Amanda Debus, will place a crown on the head of the newest Miss Delaware in only a few days.

“It’s bittersweet to be giving up the crown because I’ve had such an amazing year as Miss Delaware, but there are some very deserving girls competing to becoming Miss Delaware 2017,” she said.

“I get to go back to being just Amanda and another girl will be given the same great experience I had.”

After a few years of holding the competition at Dover Downs, Friday night’s 2017 pageant will be held at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes.

“We’re very excited to be moving back down south to reignite that tradition that lasted 47 years,” pageant director Laura Moylan said.

Miss Delaware contestants stand on the stage during a concert on The Green in Dover on June 8th. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

As part of the competition, contestants don’t only wear fancy dresses and walk around in swimsuits, their minds are also put to the test.

“We have an interview portion where the contestants could be asked anything from current events, what’s in the news or something political,” Ms. Moylan said. “We get to see how well the girls are informed, how they think on their feet and handle themselves under the pressure.”

Miss Dover Donata Leckie introduces herself during a Miss Delaware contestant concert on The Green in Dover on June 8th. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Another large portion of the competition is talent. Contestants can perform any talent they have which this year ranges from dances to monologues and even xylophone playing.

Most of the contestants find the talent portion to be the most exciting part of the competition.

“I’ve always been a performer,” said Taylor Johnson of Laurel, Miss Blue-Gold. “I saw a pageant a few years ago and thought to myself, ‘where has this been my whole life?’”

Ms. Johnson’s talent is singing. She’s been doing it since she was a little kid.

Miss Delaware 2016 Amanda Debus performs during a concert on The Green in Dover on June 8th. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“At this point, I feel totally comfortable singing in front of almost any crowd, but the crowd at the pageant is probably going to be the biggest one so far so I’m a little nervous, but more excited than anything,” she said.

Pageants are almost always associated with perfect makeup, pretty hair and beautiful dresses. But most of the women are in the competition for something very different – scholarship money.

In 2016, the Miss Delaware organization was able to provide more than $28,000 in scholarship money. For the 2017 pageant, organizers say they’re on track to award more than $30,000.

“Through pageants alone, I’ve been able to pay off my tuition and live debt-free,” said Miss Brandywine, Jenna Hitchens of Georgetown.

“I didn’t realize that the Miss America organization gives out so much scholarship money,” said Middletown’s’ Lauren Haberstroh. She holds the title of Miss Southern Delaware while being a full-time student at the University of Delaware.

“It’s amazing that doing something fun like this can help us through college and at the same time, with the experience you get, it can help skyrocket your career after graduation,” she added.

In addition to scholarship money, most the contestants believe one of the most significant aspects of becoming Miss Delaware would be the opportunity to promote their platform.

Ms. Debus’ platform was allergy awareness. Over the past year, she’s traveled across the state to elementary and middle schools to teach kids that allergies aren’t a joke. She should know — she suffers from a severe allergy.

Miss Wilmington Rebecca Gasperetti of Magnolia sings during a Concert on The Green on June 8th. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Kids can easily be bullied about allergies and in some cases, an allergic reaction might be life-threatening,” she said. “It’s not OK to make light of something so serious and sometimes kids don’t realize that.”

Ms. Hitchens’ platform also focuses on kids – Victim to Victor, helping sexual abuse victims.

“I am a victim of sexual abuse and I’ve been able to speak out and play a part in Erin’s law,” she said. “I’ve been able to find my voice and others need to do the same. And I hope with me being open about sexual abuse, other victims will realize that they’re not alone and that it’s OK to talk about.”

If she wins the Miss Delaware title, Ms. Hitchens plans on putting a lot of time into Erin’s Law — a law which requires all public schools to teach students age-appropriate techniques to recognize sexual abuse and how to tell a trusted adult about it. Erin’s Law also includes training educators on the signs of sexual abuse.

Miss Diamond State Rachel Buckler’s platform is March of Dimes — a fighting chance for every baby.

“I was born premature so it’s an organization my mom has always been involved in and something that’s been a part of our lives since I was born,” said the Georgetown resident.

“If I become Miss Delaware, I’ll take the time to go to children’s hospitals and actually talk to families and share my personal story with them.”
For Ms. Haberstroh, becoming Miss Delaware would allow her the chance to give back.

“In high school I went on a couple missions which were amazing, but I haven’t had the opportunity since then to do more big projects that allow me to give back. But I think Miss Delaware would give me that opportunity,” she said.

Her platform is Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). As Miss Delaware she would go into schools and encourage young girls to follow careers in science.

Even though all 14 contestants hope to be crowned Miss Delaware this weekend, the girls insist that the sisterhood formed in the pageant world is genuine and everyone is happy for one another.

“A lot of people think that it’s fake but I’ve formed some great friendships through pageants and Miss Delaware, it’s a real sisterhood,” Ms. Buckler said.

“I’m a different person than I was when I started doing pageants,” Ms. Johnson said. “You meet so many new people and get to form bonds that I know will last a long time.”

Tickets are $50 for the orchestra section and $35 for the mezzanine. They can be purchased at missde.org. The pageant begins at 7 p.m.

Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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