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Miss North Country pageant debuts at Clarkson University

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POTSDAM — Twelve young women prepared backstage moments before the first Miss North Country pageant Saturday at Clarkson University. Some were practicing their talents, and one brandished a sword.

The pageant was the first in an initiative to bring Miss New York preliminary pageants to colleges and universities.

“I’m developing our university programs statewide,” said Heather L. Knowles, New York City.

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.

The pageant was sponsored by Miss America, Miss New York and the Clarkson University chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Two awards were offered: 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.

All 12 contestants are students at one of St. Lawrence County’s four colleges. Word was spread through advertising and social media.

“They’re 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 I’m standing here in fake eyelashes.”

Ms. Ballestero, originally from Ballston Spa, is a civil engineering student at Clarkson. Since expertise with skinning knives and firearms is rarely showcased at talent shows, she instead performed a song on an alto saxophone. She was crowned Miss Clarkson, and judges awarded her the most points in the interview portion of the competition.

SUNY Potsdam student Hallie A. Hugues took home the crown for Miss North Country.

The winners’ crowns were presented by Miss New York 2012, Shannon M. Oliver, of Manhattan.

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.

“It’s 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 portion of the competition.

“If you’re intelligent and talented, why doesn’t that make you beautiful?” Ms. Knowles asked.

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