Derek Franz

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September 27, 2012
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Pageant for pom poms

A new event will benefit the Eagle Valley High School cheerleaders - the Miss Eagle Valley Pageant on Sunday, Oct. 7.

"This is the first event like this in the region," said Marie Sanders, one of the pageant organizers who has a daughter on the cheer team.

The pageant has competition categories for girls in kindergarten through 12th grade. Entry fees are $30 for girls in kindergarten through eighth grade and $40 for high school girls. Applications are available at EVHS, Gypsum Town Hall, Gypsum Recreation Center and Columbine Market.

The competition is from 2 to 7 p.m. in the EVHS auditorium. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students, and concessions will be available.

At first glance, it is a little ironic that a beauty pageant is raising money for a cheer team that is trying to prove its toughness.

"We want to change the perception of cheerleaders as pretty little things who cheer for the boys," said Wendi Ortiz, Eagle Valley's new cheer coach who started last May. "Cheerleading is very athletic and it can be dangerous."

That's why the team is hoping to buy new mats this year.

"The mats we have are old and aren't the kind we need to safely practice our stunts," Ortiz said.

The team already has new uniforms and pompoms. Signs and megaphones are on the wish list in addition to the mats.

Ortiz said the goal is to take the school's cheer team to a whole new level.

"I'm definitely more of a drill sergeant than they've had," she said. "They've already grown so much. They're acting and looking like a team, doing stunts they weren't doing before, and now they're cheering for entire games. They used to kind of disappear into the stands after half time."

Some veteran team members agreed that Ortiz expects more from them than previous coaches.

"She seems scary at times but it's for good reason," said sophomore cheerleader Paige Boone.

"She's awesome - she's helped us so much," said sophomore cheerleader Jazzmyn Patterson.

Ortiz said she was never a "girly girl" and doesn't know much about pageants.

"But I do know that how you present yourself to the world is important," she said. "The emphasis of this pageant will be to shine from within - project your inner beauty. It's about having the courage to go out in front of people and have poise and stage presence. That is also important for cheerleading."

The EVHS cheerleaders won't compete in the pageant because they will be helping with it. For all others, though, the first paragraph of the pageant rules and regulations reads:

"The first annual Miss Eagle Valley Pageant is a pageant that celebrates YOU! Kindergarten through fifth grade age divisions should wear 'Sunday best' party dresses. No makeup will be allowed at this age division. Junior Miss and Miss EV divisions (sixth through 12th grade) should wear age-appropriate formal wear. Makeup is allowed at this division but should remain age-appropriate and enhance your natural beauty."

Winners will receive trophies. The categories are Tiny Miss (kindergarten through second grade), Little Miss (third through fifth grade), Junior Miss (sixth through eighth grade) and Miss Eagle Valley.

This pageant will not include a talent competition, which is probably good news for first-timers.

"I have not competed in a pageant that does talent because it adds stress," said Annika Sandberg, an EVHS graduate and national pageant veteran who is currently a junior political-science major at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She was crowned Miss Colorado High School in 2010 and went on to national competition in Missouri that year. However, she said she is most proud of winning Miss Teen of Colorado, which was her first pageant at age 14.

Sandberg is helping with the Miss Eagle Valley Pageant.

"I'll be crowning the winners and mentoring," she said. "If any girl has a problem I'll be there to give a pep talk."

Sandberg's upfront advice to contestants?

"Be yourself," she said. "Don't try to act how you think a pageant girl should. Just have fun."

"Competing in a pageant is definitely a growth experience," Sandberg said. "I used to be shy and now I enjoy public speaking. I think every girl should have to walk across the stage in a swim suit, because then you think, if I can do that, I can do anything."

Sandberg said she started competing in pageants after a knee injury kept her from playing soccer her junior year of high school.

"I was very much a tomboy when I was younger," she said. "Pageants were a good way to get my competitiveness out. I thought it would be girly girls in cupcake dresses but they turned out to be normal and friendly."

Sandberg has made many friends and connections through her pageant experience.

"I met one of my best friends at one of my first pageants," she said. "Her last name also started with S, so we always ended up next to each other in line."

Sandberg also met a pageant coach from Houston who designs gowns and works in the modeling industry. That contact may or may not come in handy for her down the road. She has modeled before but is focusing on college for now.

Sanders' family is another pageant success story. All three of her daughters have competed in pageants since age 3 or younger. A couple years ago they moved to Gypsum from Georgia, where pageants are more widespread. The girls have all won various titles but the middle sibling has a particularly special story.

At 14, Makenzie is a freshman on the cheer squad. These days, you might not know it from talking to her - she articulated herself well in an impromptu interview - but she was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Autism is described on as a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity and emotional detachment.

"She did not want to speak," Sanders said. "Pageants turned her life around. "The people in the pageants rallied around her and helped me as a parent."

Sanders remembers the first time Makenzie went on stage to answer questions by herself. She was 7.

"I was so nervous and she did great," Sanders said. "They asked her who her role model was. She said her dad and explained why."

In 2010, Makenzie and her sisters won their three respective categories in a pageant.

As a member of the cheer team, Makenzie won't compete in the Miss Eagle Valley Pageant but her sisters will.

Makenzie's advice to contestants?

"Practice your smile," she said.

Basically, the Miss Eagle Valley Pageant creates an opportunity for girls to help girls. Some might find their inner strength and beauty and others will be able to pad their landing for stunt practice.

"I hope this will become an annual thing," Sandberg said. "I absolutely plan to help the program grow in any way. I want to see it extend into a larger state pageant."

The cheerleaders like the idea.

"I think it's adorable," Boone said.

With any luck, the team will grow from a group of 14 - two freshman, seven sophomores and five juniors - to a full squad of 20.

"Last year the cheerleaders struggled with just lifting girls and now they're throwing them in the air - basic basket tosses and cradles," Ortiz said. "We're hoping to attract people with gymnastic backgrounds."

Not all pageants are the same.

"We've always done pageants that promote girls' self esteem, promoted the girl as a whole," Sanders said. "Pageants can be very serious and have community impacts. The can raise awareness about current events and social issues. They help girls be more community-minded while giving them the courage to speak up on matters that affect people."

At the same time, pageants should be regarded as a competitive sport.

"They're not for the faint of heart," she said.

Regarding the difficulty of pageant questions, Sandberg said most topics at the state level are pretty simple.

"The questions get more political at the national level," she said. "Most of the girls answer pretty well, too, which is a testament to how intelligent they really are."

It's not commonly seen around here, but boys can be cheerleaders, too. And when it comes to tossing people in the air, boys can really help, since they tend to be bigger and stronger.

"If you go to a state competition you will see several teams that are co-ed," Ortiz said. "Palisade, for example, has won the state competition several times in the past has a very successful co-ed team. In fact, many of the boys on the team also play football for Palisade. They work their cheer practices around football. We would love to have a co-ed squad and I hope one day in the near future we will have some boys try out for the team."

And like cheerleading, there are also males who compete in pageants.

"Maybe we'll start a Mr. Eagle Valley Pageant," Sanders chuckled.

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The VailDaily Updated Sep 27, 2012 12:01PM Published Sep 27, 2012 11:52AM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.