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New Miss Heartland Scholarship pageant

 Courtesy of  The Daily News

By Lori Hansen

STANTON — Many little girls dream of becoming Miss America, but few have the opportunity to attain that goal. Two local women are helping young women take steps toward that crown.

Cheryl Smith and Barb Millard of Stanton have founded the Miss Heartland Pageant, an open scholarship pageant with the winner eligible to compete in the Miss Michigan Scholarship Pageant, a stepping stone to the Miss America Scholarship Pageant.

The Miss Heartland Scholarship pageant, along with a Miss Outstanding Teen competition, is Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Central Montcalm Elementary School. Tickets are $15 with those under 5 years and over 62 years free.

“I really like the Miss Michigan and Miss America programs and all that they do with the Children’s Miracle Network and with community service,” said Smith, who was director of the Miss Stanton pageant for three years. “I wanted to give more of our local girls a chance to be a part of it.”

Local pageants must be affiliated with the Miss America program to send a participant to the Miss Michigan contest. Currently the Miss Danish Festival Pageant, which is limited only to women living or working within the Greenville Public School system, is the only local pageant to meet qualifications. The Miss Stanton Pageant was involved for a few years but has withdrawn.

“An open pageant is an opportunity for anyone to compete,” Millard said. “It is open to girls all over Michigan, and often is a chance for a first runner-up from another pageant to get one more opportunity to try to get to the Miss Michigan pageant.”

There are 20 contestants competing Sunday for the new Miss Heartland title and in conjunction, eight younger ladies will vie for the title of Miss Outstanding Teen.

Emcees for the Miss Heartland pageant will be Miss Michigan 2011 Elizabeth Wertenberger and Miss Outstanding Teen 2011 Marissa Cowans, who placed as first runner-up in the Miss America Outstanding Teen contest.

Contestants will be judged on the same phases of competition as the Miss America contest. Two separate panels of judges will rank the Miss Heartland and Miss Outstanding Teen contests, Smith said.

“We hope in future years this will appeal to more of our local girls,” Millard said. “We have contestants from all over the state, some coming from the Detroit area. They are wonderful young women, but we know we have talented young women from Montcalm, Isabella, Mecosta and Gratiot counties too.”

Besides winning the opportunity to participate in the Miss Michigan pageant in June, Miss Heartland will win a $500 scholarship and Miss Outstanding Teen will earn a $50 savings bond.

“We also have some activities in mind to do throughout the year with the community,” Smith said. “Volunteerism and community service is a big part of it, and a great experience for the young women.”