POTSDAM Twelve young women prepared backstage moments before the first Miss North Country pageant at Clarkson University. Some were practicing their talents, and one brandished a sword.
The pageant at Clarkson was the first in an initiative to bring Miss New York preliminary pageants to colleges and universities.
Im developing our university programs statewide, said Heather L. Knowles, New York City.
There were two awards, one for Miss Clarkson and the other for Miss North Country. Both winners claimed a $500 scholarship and a chance to compete in the Miss New York pageant.
The pageant was sponsored by Miss America, Miss New York and the Clarkson university chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity
Ms. Knowles competed in several Miss New York pageants, and although she never claimed the title she remains active with the organization.
I learned about myself through competing, she said.
All 12 contestants are students at one of St. Lawrence Countys four colleges. Word was spread through advertising and social media.
Theyre looking for Miss North Country, said contestant Victoria M. Ballestero, Well, I can field dress a deer, I can target shoot with the best of them, and now Im standing here in fake eyelashes.
Ms. Ballestero is a civil engineering student at Clarkson, originally from Ballston Spa. Since expertise with skinning knives and firearms is rarely showcased at talent shows, she instead performed a song on an alto saxophone.
Ms. Ballestero was chosen Miss Clarkson, and judges awarded her the most points in the interview portion of the competition.
Ms. Knowles said she is well aware that many pageants have a stigma of being little more than beauty contests and acknowledges that some of them fit that description. She used the annual Miss U.S.A. competition, which is separate from Miss America, as an example.
Its a modeling contest at that point, but this is very different, she said.
The new statewide college pageants are part of an effort to emphasize the focus on talent and scholarship, rather than good looks, according to Ms. Knowles. The five judges made their decisions based on an interview before the show and the talent competition.
If youre intelligent and talented, why doesnt that make you beautiful? Ms. Knowles asked.
Clarkson student Brianna D. Beltran, a senior from Selkirk, said she was excited to participate.
I thought it would be a great way to grow personally and professionally, she said. She has been dancing since she was seven years old, and looked forward to performing for the judges.
The winners crown was presented by the current Miss New York, Shannon M. Oliver, of Manhattan.
SUNY Potsdam student Hallie Hughes took home the crown for Miss North Country. Judges were especially impressed with her singing, and awarded her the most points in the talent competition.