Jensine Matson and Sophia Peterreins giggled when they looked at a photograph taken the night they were crowned. Both Miss Prairie Village 2019 and Miss Prairie Princess 2019 have changed in the two years which have passed since the last pageant was held at Prairie Village.
"With COVID, last year we obviously did not have the pageant," said director Sydnie Waldner, who had the honor of being crowned Miss Prairie Princess 2007.
This year, with local schools meeting in person and more known about the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, planning is under way to hold the pageant, which is among the first events held annually at Prairie Village. Due to a strong interest in the event, the schedule for June 6, the day of the competition, has not yet been determined.
"We have a lot more girls interested in both sections," Waldner said.
Unlike previous years, everyone who wants to participate is welcome to do so, she indicated. In the past, due to the size of the stage, the number of participants has been limited.
With the Miss Prairie Princess competition, previous contestants who would have aged out by this year are being given the opportunity to participate. Waldner explained this option is not available to everyone, only those who were involved when they were younger. To be eligible, those girls were required to sign a contract last year.
Due to the preliminary interest shown, the Prairie Village and Prairie Princess competitions may be held separately. However, that decision will not be made until after May 7, the final date for submitting applications.
The Prairie Princess pageant is open to girls ages 8-11; the application fee is $20. The Prairie Village pageant is open to girls ages 14-18; the application fee is $40. Those interested can contact Waldner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Girls often enter the competition for the first time because a friend or family member has been involved. That was the case with Waldner.
"My sister did pageants. I was a little girl and wanted to be like my sister," she said.
Peterreins echoed that sentiment, noting that she initially entered because her cousin and older sister were involved. Her older sister, Ella Peterreins, was named Miss Prairie Princess in 2017.
However, after girls have competed once, they look forward to returning to the stage. That was the case for Matson who, like her friend Maddy Eich, has the distinction of having worn both crowns.
"I did it when I was younger and I won. I wanted to come back and do it because I had fun doing it. All of my friends were doing it," she said.
Her enthusiasm is one of the reasons for strong interest in the Prairie Village pageant this year, according to Waldner.
"Jensine did a lot of recruiting, talking to her friends. This year, we also have some Madison girls interested," she said.
The competition for the older girls includes not only a talent and evening gown competition but also more intense interviews and the opportunity to choose a platform.
"The platform gives them a chance to promote what they're passionate about," Waldner said. In recent years, topics have included epilepsy awareness, suicide prevention and the dangers of texting while driving.
"It gives them the chance to get used to talking about it."
For the younger girls, the competition provides an opportunity to gain confidence.
"The older you get, the easier it gets," Peterreins said. Matson concurred.
"I was a shy little girl," she said. "When I was in the little girl pageant, I didn't talk to anyone."
Both indicated the on-stage interview is the hardest part of the competition. Although they practice with sample questions, the girls do not know the question they will be asked prior to stepping on stage.
"We hide them in the kitchen so they can't hear the question beforehand," Waldner said.
In the week leading up to the competition, the girls meet daily to learn the program and to prepare. This includes learning a dance routine and how to present themselves in their prairie dresses.
"We always make sure they have a dress if they want to participate," Waldner said, noting that no one should refrain from entering because they don't have a dress.
"Some people make their own. A lot of grandmas love to make the dresses," she indicated.
In addition, some dresses have been donated for use in the pageant and previous contestants are often willing to loan their dresses to others.
For the girls chosen to wear the crowns, the year includes opportunities to promote Prairie Village at local parades and Prairie Village events.
"Everybody finds a little bit of something they enjoy about it," Waldner said. "Jamboree Days is always the most memorable part if you do win."
Matson enjoyed meeting people, promoting Prairie Village and getting to know Peterreins.
"My favorite was riding in the cars," Peterreins said, noting that occurred for parades. "It made me proud to put on the crown."
As Waldner and all of the others involved behind the scenes work to prepare for this year's pageant, they are not only accepting applications for participants but also looking for sponsors for the event. Those interested in being a sponsor can contact Waldner at the same address used by participants, email@example.com.
"We are always looking for sponsors," Waldner said.