Swimsuit contest out, leadership training in
Once little more than a beauty pageant, the Miss Strawberry Days contest is doing away with swimsuits and is judging contestants on personality and leadership qualities.
Strawberry Days is almost as old as Glenwood Springs itself, and though there will be a fashion show at the Hot Springs Resort Thursday evening, swimsuits will no longer be part of the contest to crown the queen of the festival.
The change came in part from the feedback of last year’s contestants.
“It’s what we talked about in interviews last year. The community just sees this as a pageant, and they don’t see all the other hard work that’s done,” said Courtney Wheeler, a third-time contest judge.
The 14 girls who are gunning for the crown this year seemed to appreciate the shift of emphasis.
The contestants spent most of the day Tuesday at Morgridge Commons, where each had an individual interview with the panel of six judges, worked on parade signs and thank-you notes.
In small groups, the girls also presented to the judges the positive impact of eliminating the swimsuit show.
“I think it attracts a more diverse group of people, instead of having just a swimsuit fashion show,” said Elle Yellico, 18, who also competed last year.
The contest is open to girls 16–20, and offers the first-place winner a $3,000 scholarship. This year, Miss Strawberry Days partnered with ATHENA Leadership Program to emphasize a different set of skills.
“Recognizing that there are more important things than looks and strutting makes it more open,” said contestant Victoria Madden, 18.
Several girls noted that they likely wouldn’t have participated if the swimsuit show were still a part of the competition.
“To anybody who calls it a beauty pageant or a popularity contest, it isn’t that,” Joni Bates of the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association said of the contest.
“I think we’re really changing the face of the program into a scholarship and leadership program, and getting away from the beauty pageant part,” she said.
Danny Starbuck, 18, has been in the background of Miss Strawberry Days for years, watching sisters compete and walking in the parade.
“It’s always been something I looked up to. A lot of power women and leaders in the community have gone through,” Starbuck said. “I think that I can represent this community well, and it’s a great opportunity,” she said.
It’s not strange for daughters and sisters of Miss Strawberry Days pageant winners to compete, Bates said.
Logan Nieslanik, 17, was inspired to do the contest by her aunt, Tonya Nieslanik, who was Miss Strawberry Days in 1989.
“I think that Miss Strawberry Days is really about empowering women, and about showing the community that women can be strong, powerful and smart, and also do a lot of good for the community,” Logan said.
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