Contestants learn life lessons in competition

Miss Victoria contestant Caitlin Huddleston, 17, decided she wanted to enter the contest after she stood backstage watching her sister compete last year.

"It just seemed really cool because it's not about the stuff most beauty pageants are about. It's not about how cute your dress is, it's about your poise, about your presentation," Huddleston said.

Poise is the key in the Miss Victoria Pageant, contestants and officials said. On Saturday evening, 27 hopefuls between the ages of 4 and 20 competed for the Miss Victoria Pageant crown.

A women needs confidence and poise at every age. This is one thing contestants for the Miss Victoria Pageant learn to exude, and it's one of the most important lessons they take from the pageant whether they win or lose, Miss Victoria pageant coordinator Debbie Green said.

Macy Cantu, 5, a Little Miss Victoria contestant, bounced across the stage on Saturday evening, sequined tennis shoes glinting as she practiced waving and smiling for imaginary judges.

Macy's mother, Crystal Cantu, was once a pageant contestant. She said it helped her speak in front of crowds and be confident when she met people.

"I was never nervous about speaking, the way some kids are. I learned a lot from it and hopefully she will, too," Cantu said.

Green has worked as pageant coordinator for 20 years, and former contestants have told her about how being in the pageant has helped them get through some of the most difficult situations.

One former Miss Victoria had lost her husband and was giving a eulogy when she remembered her Miss Victoria training.

"She told me she just pretended she was onstage talking to those judges and got through it," Green said.

Junior Miss Victoria contestant Destani Villarreal, 14, tossed her long brown curls confidently as she walked toward the edge of the stage, turning a beaming, confident smile into the pink spotlight.

This is Villareal's first pageant, and, like every other girl competing in the four different age groups, she wants to win.

But win or lose , she values the experience, she said.

"I'm glad I did it because the main thing it taught me is not to be afraid to try new things even if it's a little scary," she said.