Miss Victoria Court forms sisterhood bonds through service
July 25, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2012 at 2:26 a.m.
Kelsey Thomas smiled from ear-to-ear as she strolled on the stage. Her brown hair perfectly-coiffed and her eyes glowed during the rehearsal for Saturday's 42nd Annual Miss Victoria Pageant.
But behind this queen's radiance during her time on the court, she dealt with tremendous pain.
The 18-year-old Industrial High School graduate earned the coveted title last August, and within months, one of her biggest supporters died.
Travis Madden, Kelsey's boyfriend of two years, died suddenly in December. He was a baseball player for Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Despite Kelsey's agony, she held her head high and continued to serve the community.
"I had to cowboy up and do my job," she said.
The daughter of John and Terry Thomas also thanked her court family for providing comfort and support.
"We're just like family, we're there when you need us," said Debbie Bennett Green, who has served as the pageant director for 21 years.
The court, which includes Kelsey, Junior Miss Victoria Emilia Ureste, Young Miss Victoria Jillian Brooks and Little Miss Victoria Taylor Bearden, will pass down their crowns Saturday at the Victoria Fine Arts Center.
This year, 40 contestants are vying for the four titles.
The contest is divided into age-based categories: Miss Victoria for 16- to 20-year-olds; Junior Miss Victoria for 12- to 15-year-olds; Young Miss Victoria for 8- to 11-year-olds; and Little Miss Victoria for 4- to 7-year-olds.
Contestants must be a resident of Victoria County or attend a Victoria school, and must have never been married or have had any children.
The competition consists of a personal interview, casual wear with questions, and formal wear with a final question. The opening routine will not be judged. There will also be optional photogenic and sponsorship contest. Fellow contestants will vote for one another in the Miss Congeniality portion.
Overall winners from each group will receive a crown, sash, bouquet of flowers and a $500 U.S. Savings Bond.
Green said the title comes with responsibility.
"This is not a Toddlers and Tiaras pageant. It's about community service," she said.
Members of the court participate in parades and service projects, including their own platforms to help the area.
Emilia used her platform to help women learn self defense techniques.
The 16-year-old Victoria East High School student said serving on the court has helped her become more confident and responsible.
Although the role has been a tremendous time commitment, she has bonded with her royal court family.
"I wouldn't want to be with anyone else," she said. "We're like sisters."
Emilia admitted to being a little sad about passing on the crown, but she's thrilled to have some more free time.
Jillian's face still lights up talking about the court as though she was crowned yesterday. The experience was surreal.
"It's like a dream," she said.
The 11-year-old future Howell Middle School student said to overcome her initial nervousness, she smiled bigger. Jillian's advice for the contestants was to have fun and smile.
Taylor enjoyed participating in the pageant so much she wishes that she could continue to replay that fateful night again and again.
Fun for her didn't stop when she earned the crown, she's had fun hanging out with the court.
"I'm sad that it's over, but it's been a good year," she said.
As Kelsey takes her final walk on Saturday, she will not have Travis cheering for her in the crowd saying, "that's my girlfriend," like he did in the past.
Miss Victoria said he loved to brag about her. He also considered himself a good luck charm since both his sister Lauren Madden and mother, Carol Madden, held the title in previous years. Kelsey credited Travis for giving her courage.
"I believe he gave me his strength when he passed," she said.
Miss Victoria encouraged all contestants to make the most of this opportunity, because it's so rare. She's become really close to the other members of the court.
"We've formed lifelong friendships," she said.