BY VALERIE SHELTON
Before Miss Yosemite Valley Jillian Smith was crowned Miss California 2017 Saturday night at the Saroyan Theater in downtown Fresno, she and 51 fellow contestants spent the week prior traipsing about the Fresno area and seeing what the Central Valley has to offer.
On Friday, the girls spent the afternoon in Clovis, where a handful of the top fundraisers among them raced go karts at MB2 Raceway before the group headed the center court at Sierra Vista Mall to meet and greet fans and sign autographs.
Though only one would earn the title of Miss California, it was clear from the sashes and sparkling crowns each young woman wore that all were winners and all were proud to represent their region.
“We’re going out there and promoting our platforms in our communities, we’re making changes and we’re making waves of positive change in our cities and our hometowns and that is probably the best part,” said Miss Tulare County Elizabeth Sartuche. “That and making lifelong relationships with these women.”
Sartuche and other Central Valley area contestants felt a special sense of pride throughout their week in Fresno and Clovis.
“There are so many inner workings of Fresno that are special to Fresno that even a lot of Fresnans don’t know about so I think it is special that this pageant is held in Fresno,” said Miss Central Valley Blaire Bostwick, a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University. “It’s central and we have so much to offer. We have the city aspect, the service, the agriculture, everything that is representative of California here in the Fresno area. Many of these girls come from San Francisco and Los Angeles and we think that is amazing, but it’s great to see that they think this city is amazing too.”
While representing the Central Valley, local contestants also pointed out there love for the Miss America organization that they also represent.
““There is a stigma that surrounds pageantry in general,” Sartuche said. “People think that we’re ditzy and all about the teased hair and just about looks, but that could not be more opposite from the truth.”
In fact, contestants said none of them got involved in pageantry for glitz or glamour, it was all about education.
“I’m not really that type of gal [who does pageants] but my English teacher mentioned that everyone who does it gets a scholarship so I was definitely all for it,” said Miss Merced County Francess Carpenter, who will be attending UC Davis in the fall. “I just tried my best and now I’m here and it’s amazing. I think it is so fun to say I ran for Miss California and to hold a local title and be that representation for your county is awesome.”
“I’m not really a pageant girl,” said Miss Kings County Laura Sparks. “I think of Honey Boo Boo and think no thank you, but a good friend of mine had mentioned it and I prayed about it and I really felt like it was a good opportunity to be a light for everyone, but especially girls in the pageant community and so I competed in my local pageant and won. Now I’m here and am so thankful for this experience.”
Miss California 2016 Jess Carmack also got into pageantry to earn scholarships and couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunities the Miss America organization has provided.
“I never ever thought I would compete in something like a pageant, but I knew I wanted to go to college and I knew I wanted to pay for it on my own, so I thought ‘Hey, they give out scholarship opportunities for competing’ and I ended up winning that pageant,” Carmack said. “I won $1,600 right off the bat and that is what lured me in and I kept coming back and competing. Eight years later here I am as Miss California with over $46,000 in scholarship money and I’ve paid off all of my student loan debt.”
Win or lose, contestants say they not only gained usual scholarships from their pageant experience, but have also learned applicable skills and have gained beautiful friendships.
“There is only one girl crowned Saturday night and we’re going to be so incredibly happy for that girl, but we will also be so incredibly proud of ourselves because there is no way you can go through this experience and not emerge out a better version of yourself,” Bostwick said.