South Dakota pageant popularity grows with each queen crowned

Lindsey Hurd

Lindsey Hurd

There are at least as many pageants in South Dakota as there are shades of pink lip gloss at a drugstore. With each queen crowned, pageant popularity grows.

“This year, it’s expanding,” said Kate Wismer, a junior music education major. “In just this short amount of time, it’s grown so much. A lot has to do with Callee (Bauman, reigning Miss South Dakota) going out and getting people excited about it.”

Four out of the next six pageants in South Dakota are new to the system, including Miss Black Hills State University and Miss Prairie Pasque/Pheasant Country. These smaller-scale pageants offer contestants an opportunity to move on to Miss South Dakota.

Wismer is the reigning Miss South Dakota State Fair, a title she earned in September at the state fair in Huron.

She became interested in pageants when an acquaintance, after hearing Wismer sing, suggested she give it a try.

“I was bitten by the pageant bug,” Wismer said. “It’s a great way to get scholarships.”

Wismer estimates that she has won more than $2,000 in scholarships so far, a number that will grow when she receives her Miss South Dakota State Fair scholarship at the end of her reign in September.

Wismer won first runner-up at last year’s Miss SDSU pageant. Her next competition is the Miss South Dakota pageant in Hot Springs in June. Until then, she’ll complete her reign as Miss South Dakota State Fair, championing the platform “The Reading Advantage,” promoting good reading habits for children.

Scholarships and tiaras aside, pageant involvement promotes a healthy lifestyle and helps competitors groom skills necessary for life after graduation.

“It’s a great experience. You can really gain a lot from it and learn more about yourself,” said Elizabeth Gouin, a freshman majoring in graphic design and music.

Gouin started her pageant career with the Miss Teen USA competition in 2004, but felt it was more about beauty than scholarships, so she switched to the Miss America scholarship organization. She hopes to win Miss South Dakota and go on to compete in the Miss America pageant, which she has followed since she was young.

Wismer said that even her vocal coach has noticed the difference in her performance.

“As a music major, I enjoy the performance aspect of it. I’ve realized that I’m more comfortable in front of crowds,” Wismer said. “My interview skills have catapulted and my performance demeanor has improved.”

Perhaps closest to home is the Miss SDSU/Miss Brookings pageant, started in 1945. September Kirby, instructor and wellness assistant in Health, Physical Education and Recreation, volunteers for the organization by serving as a contact for contestants.

“Twenty-five years ago, I was Miss SDSU,” Kirby said. “I’ve been involved since, trying to help out where I can. It just works well to volunteer at the Miss SDSU pageant.”

Both contestants and pageant organizers are busily preparing for the Miss SDSU/Miss Brookings pageant, to take place Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. in Doner Auditorium. So far, between eight and ten contestants are set to compete.

Twelve of the 58 past Miss SDSUs, including former Miss SDSU Callee Bauman, went on to become Miss South Dakota.

Pageants have been accused of setting impossible standards and demeaning women, but the countless participants are staunch defenders of their organizations.

“It really isn’t a matter of how beautiful or expensive your gown is. It depends on what the judges are looking for,” said Gouin, reigning Miss Capital City. “Yeah, they are going to look at personal fitness, but personality matters too.”

Wismer was initially skeptical about pageant competition.

“I realize that the tradition of the Miss America Pageant was a beauty competition, but the other criteria outweigh that,” she said.

“It’s the largest organization that gives scholarships to women,” Kirby said. “I believe in the program.”

#1.883782:2805783768.jpg:calliebowman.jpg:Callee Bauman:File Photo