Miss Victoria Court forms sisterhood bonds through service

A look at some of the contestants in the 42nd annual Miss Victoria Pageant.
  • IF YOU GO:

  • • WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 5 p.m.

    • WHERE: Victoria Fine Arts Center, 1002 Sam Houston Drive, Victoria

    • HOW MUCH: $8

    • FOR MORE INFO: Visit miss victoriapageant.com

  • Contestants

  • Name: Kayliana Pena

    Age: 5

    School: Rowland Elementary

    Parents: Betty and Larry Pena

    Name: Kahlyn Espinoza

    Age: 4

    School: Chandler Elementary

    Parents: Erica Espinoza

    Name: Addisyn Turner

    Age: 5

    School: Mission Valley Elementary

    Parents: Jill and ...

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  • Contestants

    Name: Kayliana Pena

    Age: 5

    School: Rowland Elementary

    Parents: Betty and Larry Pena

    Name: Kahlyn Espinoza

    Age: 4

    School: Chandler Elementary

    Parents: Erica Espinoza

    Name: Addisyn Turner

    Age: 5

    School: Mission Valley Elementary

    Parents: Jill and Corey Turner

    Name: Macie Kolodziejczyk

    Age: 6

    School: Industrial Elementary

    Parents: Shanda and Jeffery Kolodziejczyk

    Name: Ariah Barrera

    Age: 5

    School: Vickers Elementary

    Parents: Caresa Trautwein and Billy Joe Barrera

    Name: Elizabeth Grace Hoffer

    Age: 5

    School: F. W. Gross Montessori

    Parents: Beth and Jason Hoffer

    Name: Julianne Horner

    Age: 4

    School: DeLeon Elementary

    Parents: Britney Jordan and Matthew Horner

    Name: Samarah Perez

    Age: 7

    School: Shields Elementary

    Parents: Maria Loya and Fernando Perez

    Name: Ambree Vaclavik

    Age: 5

    School: DeLeon Elementary

    Parents: Katherine and Joshua Vaclavik

    Name: Madalyn Rowlands

    Age: 4

    School: Vickers Elementary

    Parents: Sarah and Daniel Rowlands and Kinglsee Anderson

    Name: Kamdyn Morales

    Age: 4

    School: Northside Baptist

    Parents: DeAnn and Kevin Morales

    Name: Sydney Bohac

    Age: 5

    School: Vickers Elementary

    Parents: Jamie and Scott Bohac

    Name: Myleigh Kramer

    Age: 4

    School: Shields Elementary

    Parents: Melanie Kramer

    Name: Shelby Terry

    Age: 6

    School: DeLeon Elementary

    Parents: Elizabeth Terry, Billy Terry, and Laura Arlitt

    Name: Tristyn Lindsey

    Age: 6

    School: Shields Elementary

    Parents: Robin and Curtis Lindsey

    Name: Averie Porras

    Age: 4

    School: Kiddly Winks Playcare Inc.

    Parents: Stefanie and Isaac Porras

    Name: Olivia Cooper

    Age: 5

    School: Aloe Elementary

    Parents: Ashlee and Brandon Cooper

    Name: Tara Cocoy

    Age: 11

    School: Bloomington Middle School

    Parents: Janie and Dustin Carter

    Name: Kennedy Dudley

    Age: 8

    School: Nursery Elementary

    Parents: Marise and Bryan Dudley

    Name: Soulel Fair

    Age: 8

    School: Chandler Elementary

    Parents: Crystal Castro and Sam Fair

    Name: Arianna Hernandez

    Age: 8

    School: Hopkins Elementary

    Parents: Herlinda and Tony Hernandez III

    Name: Melody Kloss

    Age: 10

    School: Trinity Episcopal

    Parents: Talitha and Evan Kloss

    Name: Caitlin Serenil

    Age: 11

    School: Howell Middle School

    Parents: Veronica and Eddie Serenil

    Name: Megan Slayden

    Age: 9

    School: Vickers Elementary

    Parents: Terri and Jimmy Slayden

    Name: Kara Steininger

    Age: 10

    School: Schorlemmer Elementary

    Parents: Misty Smith and Zane Steininger

    Name: Kylee Tipton

    Age: 11

    School: Stroman Middle School

    Parents: Belinda and Tommy Romanowski

    Name: Elizabeth Caldwell

    Age: 13

    School: Cade Middle School

    Parents: Maureen and Vic Caldwell

    Name: Sabrina Emiliano

    Age: 15

    School: Industrial High School

    Parents: Elsa and Roman Emiliano Jr.

    Name: McKenna Greene

    Age: 15

    School: Industrial High School

    Parents: Jackie LeJune and Jody Greene

    Name: Saige McLarty

    Age: 13

    School: Cade Middle School

    Parents: Natalie and Travis McLarty

    Name: Katelyn Shaw

    Age: 14

    School: St. Joseph's High School

    Parents: Jennifer Shaw and Blake Shaw

    Name: Ofelia Alcaraz

    Age: 17

    School: Victoria East High School

    Parents: Ofelia and Oscar Alcaraz

    Name: Katlynn Balli

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria West High School

    Parents: Vanessa and Johnny Vale

    Name: Kendle Bomersbach

    Age: 17

    School: Victoria West High School

    Parents: Cindy and Pat Bomersbach

    Name: Monica Garcia

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria East High School

    Parents: Maria Garcia

    Name: Bethany Garza

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria West High School

    Parents: Valarie DeLaGarza and Gregg Garza

    Name: Lauren Klesel

    Age: 17

    School: Home schooled

    Parents: Cyndy and David Klesel

    Name: Maranda Ramirez

    Age: 17

    School: Victoria West High School

    Parents: Martha and Augustine Ramirez

    Name: Cameron Shaw

    Age: 17

    School: Victoria West High School

    Parents: Teri Bates and Reginald Shaw

    Name: Hunter Slusher

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria East High School

    Parents: Karen and Jeff Slusher

  • 2011 Court

  • Name: Kelsey Thomas

    Age: 18

    School: plans to enroll at Charles and Sue's School of Hair Design in Corpus Christi

    Parents: Terry and John Thomas

    Name: Emilia Ureste

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria East High School

    Parents: Eden ...

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  • 2011 Court

    Name: Kelsey Thomas

    Age: 18

    School: plans to enroll at Charles and Sue's School of Hair Design in Corpus Christi

    Parents: Terry and John Thomas

    Name: Emilia Ureste

    Age: 16

    School: Victoria East High School

    Parents: Eden Yaklin and Mark Ureste

    Name: Jillian Brooks

    Age: 11

    School: Plans to attend Howell Middle School

    Parents: Christina and David Brooks

    Name: Taylor Bearden

    Age: 8

    School: Chandler Elementary

    Parents: Jaclyn and Lee Bearden

  • What advice do you have for the contestants on Saturday?

  • • "Just be yourself. They (the judges) want to see who you are every day, not just who you are for a few hours." - Kelsey Thomas

    •  "Be yourself and be calm. Don't freak out because it's only ...

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  • What advice do you have for the contestants on Saturday?

    • "Just be yourself. They (the judges) want to see who you are every day, not just who you are for a few hours." - Kelsey Thomas

    •  "Be yourself and be calm. Don't freak out because it's only going to make you more nervous." - Emilia Ureste

    • "Have fun and smile." - Jillian Brooks

    • "Just do your best and have fun." - Taylor Bearden

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.