AVON PARK -The annual Miss and Junior Miss Avon Park pageant filled Union Congregational Church nearly to capacity Friday as 2014's Miss Avon Park and Junior Miss Avon Park were crowned.
Cassandra Sullivan was chosen as the new Miss Avon Park, taking over from last year's winner, Jordan Wright.
Brandi Best was named first runner-up, Taylor Brown was second runner-up, Taylor Hedrick was chosen third runner-up, while Kiana Vassell was chosen as Miss Congeniality, and Yamillet Sanchez was named Miss Photogenic.
Surrounded by family and friends, Sullivan was radiant and smiling as she posed for photographs. Her mother, Norissa Wollard, who was obviously proud of her daughter, said over the last several months Sullivan has become "a lot more confidant and independent, and is able to start conversations with so many people now that it's amazing."
The 2014 Miss Junior Miss Avon Park is Whitney Spurlock , while Kami McGrath was named first runner- up, Amy Schlosser was second runner-up, and Taylor Nelson was chosen third runner-up. Tanah Becker was chosen as Miss Congeniality and Na'Talya Perry was named Miss Photogenic for the Junior Miss division.
The pageant is sponsored by the Avon Park Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with local sponsors.
Tori Trinder, the chamber's executive director, believes strongly in the event because "we're all judged on how you carry yourself.everyone involved with this event learns critical life skills that will help them throughout their lives."
In addition to monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheons and approximately 20 events throughout the year, contestants learn public speaking, marketing, public relations and fund-raising.
Pageant director, Celeste Carr, is no stranger to Highlands County or pageants.
As Miss Avon Park 1998, Carr understands just what it takes to produce a pageant. After working closely with the Chamber of Commerce during her reign on a variety of community events, Carr continued working with pageant directors from 1999 through 2012, and has been handling the role on her own since then.
"Things haven't changed all that much, although we've tried to allow the girls to have more fun. When I was in pageants, they were more rigid and oriented to business-type environments.now we've changed to focusing on allowing the girls to select 'personality wear' that will highlight their personality and individuality," she said.
Contestants opened the event with a choreographed dance to "Brave" by Sara Bareilles.
This year, all contestants were required to complete a written essay within an hour of being given their topic, and contest judges reviewed the essays.
Junior Miss Avon Park candidates were judged on their knowledge of the community, personality, poise, personality wear, formal dress and the written essay.
The 2014 Junior Miss candidates were Na'Talya Perry, Jazlyn Almonte, Taylor Nelson, Sarah Dyer, Tanah Becker, Katelyn New, Kami McGrath, Kaelyn Riffle, Amy Schlosser and Whitney Spurlock.
The Miss Avon Park contestants were judged on the same criteria as Junior Miss, with the added component of a live response to a random question. Questions ranged from how the contestants viewed themselves as a community liaison, goals they've recently achieved, social tolerance of bullying and other similar topics.
The 2014 Miss APCC candidates were Makayle Dennis, Tiffany Crosson, Cassandra Sullivan, Brandi Best, Kelsey Knowles, Shelby Luke, Morgan Delaney, Taylor Hedrick, Kiana Vassell, Mary-Maria Beadle, Yamillet Sanchez, Taylor Brown, Shelby Ball, Alyssa Cloud and Taylor Massey.
Linda Massey summed up the consensus among friends and family that the pageant "builds self-confidence and community awareness.[and] how important it is to give back to the community."
Lisa Garduno felt it builds discipline among the contestants and "encourages them to do better within the community."