One of most exciting (but not-so-well-known) events at the county’s upcoming fair is the pageant held each Sunday before the fair opens.
And Miss Loudoun County Fair is never just a pretty face. She’s a passionate 4-H member with a love of agriculture and community, organizers say, and the program is intended to build confidence in young women involved with 4-H programs.
“My favorite part of being involved with the pageant is seeing how these girls grow with the 4-H program,” said pageant director and former winner Cary Brown. “I’ve seen a lot of very quiet girls join the pageant and do phenomenal. … It’s a good place for them to branch out.”
The pageant is open to young women and girls who are members of 4-H clubs around the county. Last year’s winner, Jacquelyn Noel, is president of the 4-H Leaps and Squeaks Rabbit and Cavy (guinea pig) Club and a rising senior at Loudoun County High School. Noel, 17, is interested in agricultural science, engineering and architecture classes and is hoping to attend Virginia Tech. She doesn’t consider herself a beauty pageant type, but was encouraged to enter the contest by her club leader.
“I was kind of skeptical, honestly, about entering the pageant. … But it was very relaxed and everyone was really supportive, so it’s not like what you think of a beauty pageant,” Noel said. “In terms of leadership, I’ve definitely gained a lot of public speaking skills, confidence in doing presentations—whether it’s for school or 4-H, and I think that will help me in the future in terms of a career.”
Brown, the pageant organizer, took the crown in 2013 and helped run the pageant for the past two years before stepping in as director this year. The 19-year-old Northern Virginia Community College student has a long history with Loudoun 4-H and has been a member of the rabbit, goat and beef clubs. The 2015 Woodgrove High School graduate will start her second year at Northern Virginia Community College in the fall with plans to transfer to a four-year college to study agricultural business or sports management.
The Miss Loudoun County Fair pageant has been a hit or miss event since the fair’s beginnings in the 1930s, and historical details about the pageant have been hard to find, said Stephanie Fidler, who did extensive research on the fair for her book “Loudoun County Fair” published last year. But the pageant has been going strong for the past 15 years, Brown said.
The pageant includes three divisions for girls 8 to 11 (Little Miss), 12 to 15 (Junior Miss) and 16 to 19 (Miss Loudoun County Fair). And while the winner of the senior division is the pageant’s main princess, the Junior Miss division tends to draw the most contestants, with 10 of 17 participants this year. This may be a result of greater time pressures on older girls, Brown said.
“Once you get to being a senior in 4-H you have to dedicate a lot of time to your animal projects—there’s the possibility to make more money and to win more shows,” Brown said. “The older girls have a ton of things going on in their lives so it’s harder to commit both during the fair and after the fair.”
Contestants are judged on 4-H involvement, community service activities, public speaking, stage presence and attire (participants wear informal clothes for the first round of competition and formal wear for the second). Contestants in each age group are asked to answer two questions, along with a fun last-minute “fishbowl” question for the oldest group. Questions can cover anything from the importance of 4-H to the role of agriculture in Loudoun and nationally, to something fun like a description of the contestant’s favorite pet.
“Most of the time [the answer] comes out perfectly and it’s a great representation of what they’re thinking,” Brown said. “The question isn’t necessarily extremely difficult—it just makes sure they know what they’re talking about and believe what they’re talking about.”
A panel of three or four judges, including past winners and business and community leaders, selects the winners, who are awarded crowns, sashes and prizes from fair sponsors. This year Brown is looking to launch a scholarship program for the senior winner to be used for college or 4-H related projects, and is seeking sponsors for the program.
The fair doesn’t officially open until Monday morning, but the pageant, which takes place at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24, at the fairgrounds’ show barn, is open to the public.
Following the pageant, the three age-level winners will be busy at the fair all week, participating in livestock auctions and ceremonies. The senior winner also makes appearances at community events throughout the year as an ambassador for the fair and for the county’s 4-H program. Noel participated in last year’s Purcellville Christmas parade, and this year’s Independence Day parades in Leesburg and Purcellville.
“It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had in 4H—getting to represent 4H and Loudoun County and all the agricultural events we have here,” Brown said.
For information about sponsoring pageant scholarships, contact Cary Brown at [email protected].