Pageant participants prohibited from Miss America

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HOOPESTON — Organizers of the National Sweetheart Pageant say they could be seeing some major changes since the Miss America Organization no longer lets those contestants take part. They’re not sure why.

Some say it’s a stepping stone for girls competing to be Miss America. Nine of the women who’ve crossed the stage have gone on to become Miss America.

A lot of girls who are runners-up in their state competition compete in the Sweetheart Pageant. Organizers say they’re not happy to see this happen to a tradition which started in 1939.

Allie Lankford always has something to look forward to on Labor Day weekend.

“You get to meet these girls that are making a difference in their own communities, in their own states, seeing what they can do as people, as students. The growth they can make through the Miss America Organization is huge.”

But, those days might be over. She says the Miss America Organization updated the contracts their contestants sign and it’s not good new for the National Sweetheart Pageant.

“It says if they are, if they come and are involved in the National Sweetheart Pageant as a contestant or as a judge, they they aren’t really welcome in the Miss America Organization.”

She and others involved in the pageant are not shy about their feelings with the change.

“Frustrated beyond belief.”

“Definitely angry.”

Cliff and Michelle Crabtree have been the pageant’s executive directors for ten years. They say it’s a staple of the community and a great opportunity for the girls who come through.

“The girls become true best friends when they’re here. They compete against each other, but they get to learn a lot from each other too.”

The Crabtree’s say they follow the organizations guidelines to a “T,” and why they would ban these girls from taking part is beyond them.

“We never try to impose our will upon them. When they made a change, we always try to adapt it within a few years. So, without a reach out to us to ask us, ‘Can you change this? Can you do this?’ It was just kind of a shock.”

As the chairman of the pageant’s 73rd year, Lankford says it’s hard not knowing why, but she and others involved aren’t ready to let go of the tradition which started in Hoopeston more than 70 years ago.

“I don’t want to feel like we’re doing something wrong because I know we’re doing everything right. I know we’re doing everything we can to make a difference and we’re making changes each year that will benefit the girl, benefit the community and benefit our volunteers.”

Organizers say they’ll be meeting Wednesday to discuss the pageant’s future. That’s when they hope to get some answers.

Women who walked the stage of the Sweetheart Pageant make up a bigger percent of Miss America winners than you might expect. Nine girls who took part in the pageant went on to become Miss America. There have been 90 Miss American winners, meaning 10% have competed in the National Sweetheart Pageant.

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