On Jan. 5 the 74th year of the Miss Sonoma County Competition officially kicked off, with 22 contestants meeting for their first rehearsal. Sonoma County has the longest continuously running program of the Miss America organization in the state of California and this year six of the young women competing are from Rohnert Park. The Community Voice will feature the local contestants in the coming weeks.
“The contestants will receive eight weeks of training in everything from interview skills, to stage presence, the history of Sonoma County and current events, among others,” says Cathy Slack, Executive Director for the Miss Sonoma County Outstanding Teen program and board member of the Miss Sonoma County Scholarship Organization.
The competition encompasses both the Miss Sonoma County program, which is for young women from 18 to 25 years old that live, work, or go to school in Sonoma County, as well as the Miss Sonoma County Outstanding Teen competition which is for girls ages 13 through 17 who live and go to school in Sonoma County.
Originally, when the competition first started in the county in 1947, it was run by the 20/30 club of Santa Rosa. The club ran the program until 1969 and held the competitions at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. Later a pageant organization and association formed and in the mid-1980s the competitions moved to the Luther Burbank Center. Since the mid-1990s however, they have been held at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. This year the competition will be at Spreckels on March 7.
Clearly there have been many other changes in the 74 years of Miss Sonoma County competitions. For one, there are no longer any swimsuit competitions. In lieu of those, candidates have a “social impact initiative” in which they speak about a cause they are passionate about and want to involve themselves. Some past issues have included suicide prevention, cancer awareness, homelessness and body image. The way candidates are accepted has also changed as of three years ago.
“There are no auditions anymore,” says Slack. “Everyone who qualifies in terms of their age and where they live, work, or go to school can compete.”
This year Cathy Slack is also coordinating the “Miss Sonoma County princess program,” a non-competitive mentoring program for girls ages five through twelve that offers a variety of fun activities through the month of February.
“The girls are mentored by the older candidates, participate in a ‘princess boot camp’ and go to the rehearsals with the older girls,” says Slack. “We teach them how to be a good community and family member. They will also walk the candidates on stage during the competition.”
The princess program also acts as a fundraiser for the Miss Sonoma County program, as they pay a fee to participate. All money raised by this all-volunteer organization goes to awarding scholarship money to the contestants. Every contestant receives at least $150. While the exact amount to be awarded is not finalized yet, the winner of Miss Sonoma County will win at least $5,000 this year and the winner of the Miss Teen competition will receive at least $1,000. In addition, other prize money will be awarded to the top interview candidate, the best talent, and a “Spirit of Life” award for the candidate that has overcome an adversity in her life or went the extra mile.
Winners of both competitions will go on to compete in the Miss California competition held in Fresno in June and will make over 100 appearances over the course of the year. The young women will attend city council and county board supervisor meetings, participate in parades and fundraisers, be present at ribbon cuttings, and other county events.
For more information or to register your daughter for the princess program by the cut-off date of Jan. 20, contact Cathy Slack at 707-478-4585.