By CRYSTAL SCHELLE
The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown
SMITHSBURG, Md. (AP) — Tina M. Stephens knows firsthand that scholarship pageants are more than just glitz and glamour.
She said she’s been part of the Miss America Organization “in one way, shape or form since I was elementary school.” Back then, she started collecting tickets at the door for the Miss Southington pageant in Connecticut, because her music teacher was the executive director. As a teen and young adult growing up, Stephens competed in pageants. Later, she helped her mother, who became executive director of Miss Southington, part of the Miss America Organization.
“It was much like Miss Washington County in the fact that it had been established and had been a part of Southington (Conn.) for years,” she said.
While in college, her mother, Diana DiCenso, encouraged Stephens to start her own scholarship pageant because she liked the production side of the pageants.
“And I had already aged out because once you reach 25, you can no longer compete,” she said.
As an adult, Stephens lived and worked in Waynesboro, Pa. There, she and her mother established the Miss Franklin County title, which was also part of the Miss America Organization.
After moving to Smithsburg about five years ago, Stephens decided that young women, ages 17 to 24, also needed the chance to be involved in the Miss America Organization. So Stephens has founded a new title, Miss Smithsburg.
“I just think that these young people need a way to positively spend their time,” Stephens said, “and why not get some
scholarship money while you’re at it?”
Although there are already two Miss American Organization titles in Washington County — Miss Washington County and Miss Western Maryland — Stephens said she believes there are enough contestants to go around.
“I’m not trying to steal Miss Washington County’s thunder, but why not have another way for these young ladies to have another chance (for scholarship money)?” she said.
In its inaugural year, Miss Smithsburg Scholarship Program is an open pageant, which means any young woman ages 17 to 24 who lives, works or attends school in the state of Maryland is eligible.
Stephens said recently she didn’t know how many contestants would compete because she was still registering last-minute entrees. Miss America requires a minimum of four contestants.
“I’m happy with anyone who wants to come and participate,” Stephens said.
The program’s theme is “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” Miss Smithsburg contestants will compete in interview, lifestyle and fitness, talent and onstage presence in evening wear. And, like other Miss America system titles in the county, the winner of Miss Smithsburg will get a chance to compete for the title of Miss Maryland.
Stephens said there will be a Miss Smithsburg Outstanding Teen title given, which is open to ages 13 to 17. This year, Stephens said she has taken nominations from the community.
“The focus on Miss Smithsburg next year will be both competitions,” Stephens said.
The teen winner will be judged by Stephens on scholastic achievement, leadership and community service experience and outstanding talent. The teen will go on to compete in the Outstanding Teen title at the Miss Maryland level. The winner will be named during the pageant and receive $250.
“In addition to the Miss America criteria, I’m looking for a young lady who is positive for her peers and who has done something in one way, shape or form in Smithsburg,” she said, naming several volunteering opportunities. “Because I consider the teen level to be an introduction (to Miss America) and take something they’re passionate about and work on it.”
Stephens said the Miss American Organization is a good fit for Miss Smithsburg contestants. The pageant encourages them to give back to the community as well as to Miss America’s charity, The Children’s Miracle Network.
The young ladies need to feel good about themselves,” Stephens said. “They need a way to make a difference. This is the best way I know how to give back.”
“I’m trying to raise as much money as I can for these girls to have because I know where it goes,” she said. “I know there’s not an administrative fee. I know I’m writing a check to that young lady’s college education.”
As part of the pageant, Stephens said she has established a scholarship in memory of her late father-in-law, Michael C.
Stephens, who passed way in 2010. The Michael C. Stephens Scholarship will be awarded to the winner. The total amount of scholarship money Miss Smithsburg will receive is yet to be determined.
Stephens said she’s hoping to successfully launch the Miss Smithsburg title this year to enable her to continue to grow the pageant.
“My hope is (Miss Smithsburg) will become that icon, that ambassador of Smithsburg. That she’ll be there working for the
cause,” Stephens said. “My hope is to help her open every opportunity that she needs or get every opportunity she needs to give back to Smithsburg. I would like to see her be a leader.”
Because scholarship is one of the most important aspects of any title connected with Miss America Organization, Stephens said she has made sure to raise money for the contestants
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)