Cable network reality shows occasionally poke fun at or criticize the sometimes complex, ultra-competitive world of juvenile pageants, but the Keller Lions Club event seems to be more like an old-school, southern, small-town festival pageant.
“This is a fair pageant,” Shady Grove Elementary physical education teacher, Lions Club member and pageant director Lesley Boone explains. “To say the least, we are not a typical beauty pageant, as ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ or Miss yada-yada, but a hometown pageant looking for natural, hometown girls.”
The Keller Lion’s Club started in 1948 and the Miss Keller pageant has been an annual fair event since the early 1950s. There are five different age categories; The Keller Fair Queen (16-19), Senior Miss Keller (13-15), Junior Miss Keller (10-12), Little Miss Keller (7-9) and Tiny Miss Keller (4-6). Entry fee proceeds go to the Lions Club, which uses the resources to help the community.
“We are real community-driven in our purpose,” says Jason Sandlin, vice president of the Keller Lions Club. “This club has grown tremendously and we strive to support many organizations.”
“And it’s a unique club because of the land we have all around us to be able to hold events and sporting activities like we do,” says Lions Club President Jason Fulgham. “The events help to support all of the organizations that we support like Phillip’s Wish, The Texas Lion’s Camp in Kerrville, Randy’s Ride, Community Storehouse and these events help us fund building parks— like for disabled children.”
The pageant winners also work throughout the year to help the community.
“The winners participate in helping the community like delivering Meals on Wheels to the community or bringing first responders some good cheer while on duty during the holidays. Many of our pageant winners have gone on to be pillars in the community and we’re real proud of that,” Sandlin says.
Winners from 2015 also participated in Casey's Kids Fun Run, various parades, food pantry collections and a variety of other charities last year.
Notable was how dedicated these leading Lions (the officers) supported the girls while they were backstage. Fulgham and Sandlin, along with club member and pageant stage coordinator Gary Neuberg, were cracking jokes and keeping the young contestants giggling instead of freezing up. It was a team effort to make the four days of pageantry paired with the lights and sounds of the full-out fair go off without a hitch.
Dressing Room Prep and Primping
In the dressing room on Thursday’s night of competitions, mothers, aunts and close family friends helped the girls to put on their final, finishing touches.
Soon, the young ladies would float in springtime-colored gowns and dresses across the stage.
It seemed evident that the primping and preparation time might be the best part of the event to some. It is a real life dress-up session.
Caitlyn Walker, 10, of Florence Elementary School in Keller had a flurry of family around her helping her with makeup and hair styling. When asked if she was enjoying the whole process, Caitlin replies,“Yes, but I’m quite irritated right now that I can’t wear my cowboy boots,” with a perfect, lipstick-covered pout.
Asked why she couldn’t slide into her boots, her mother, Dana Walker, says, “Her granny won’t let her.”
Rules are rules when “Granny” lays down the law.
This evening little Caitlyn and the other contestants had carte blanche to wear fancy, sometimes bejeweled slippers and strappy sandals as they hit their marks. Their marks were black-taped with a big, hard to miss “X” on the outdoor concrete stage adjacent to the Quonset hut-styled Lions Den.
The pre-pageant chatter was precious and some contestants didn’t have the usual case of nerves.
Havlynd Jae Beverly, 10, from Freedom Elementary School says she was “not even nervous at all.” After all, her mother and she had been practicing.
“She taught me how to do my toes and how to do my arms,” Havlynd said.
There was help to boost on-stage confidence from the older girls who were crowned last year.
“The previous queens were real leaders. They were very congenial and helpful to the younger ones,” Havlynd’s mother Kenyia Beverly says. “The girls have all been very sweet and genuine to one another.”
Kenyia noticed her daughter trying to help others do well, too.
Dressed and waiting patiently for the competition to begin, Kadence Warren sits at a long table in an aqua long, floor length gown. She’s calm, cool and collected. Coincidentally, and totally unplanned, her aqua orthodontic braces have rubber bands that match her gown. You can’t miss this because her beautiful smile is as big as Texas.
Kadence says that her mother also helped her learn to walk properly on stage and in fancy shoes. Her mother, Britanie Warren, says that she didn’t know how to do it before this event, but took a quick, crash course on the internet when she “Googled it.”
Standing tall in an ivory fitted, full-length dress with Rapunzel-like blonde locks is sixth grader Cynthia Castlemain. She was the older girl in her category and you can see it in how she towers over the younger lineup.
All of the girls are called to gather before heading to the stage. They are addressed by Boone and the reigning and newly crowned queens. It’s sort of a pep talk about the contest and a reminder that the night is not about one winner but about the participation in a fun event.
Boone asks the girls to hold hands and tell the person next to them that they look beautiful and wish them well. These moments were priceless. The excited girls each conveyed sweetness to one another.
Boone asked everyone to raise their right hand.
The crew raises their right hands as if they were about to take a pledge.
“Now, give yourself a pat on the back for being here and participating in this pageant,” she says.
The girls snicker and engage in the back patting, on command.
Boone instructs them to give themselves a hug and recites more uplifting sayings and thoughts.
At this point, even family onlookers in the dressing room seemed to have forgotten about the contest and all the stage hoopla about to happen. Boone has repositioned a chase for the crown into a full-on team effort and self-esteem building session.
Some girls continue holding hands.
The previous young queens offer a few tips.
“Ya’ll are all beautiful and what matters is what’s on the inside,” one of the younger 2015 queens said to the group in a soft, sweet voice.
Last year’s queens tries hard to emphasize the message on Boone’s nearby poster —that this event is about the experience and not the crown.
The girls then walk through some fair exhibits and concession stands to the backstage entrance where they wait to go on stage. The western sun is setting and the director stalls until the harsh glare is off everyone’s eyes.
There’s no talent competition or speaking portion of this fair contest. The girls simply walk around on the stage while their bios, written with the assistance of their parents, are read aloud by 2015 Fair Queen Macey Zimmerschied who attends Keller High School.
The bios convey their hobbies, volunteer work, future career ideas and other hopes and dreams. One of the contestants summarized her love of animals and hopes to attend veterinary school one day. Her bio even included a pet lizard, which resulted in some charmed laughter from the audience and judges’ section.
The stands were filled with families there to support the girls. The Castlemain family was especially enthusiastic because their large crew was there to cheer on Cynthia Castlemain.
Castlemain is the only daughter in a family with nine children. The emcee reads Cynthia’s bio aloud, which mentions that she was born in Cairo, Egypt, while her father was in the military. Living there for half of her life, she wrote that she learned to understand different cultures and people.
While Castlemain walks the stage, her bio also reveals that her youngest brother James, 8, has Down syndrome and he is indeed her biggest fan. It didn’t matter if she won or lost the crown that night, because to James, she was “the most beautiful girl in the world.”
In the stands, her large band of brothers included young James, who was verifiably cheering and clapping for his big sister. Six other brothers in a wide range of ages are smiling and supporting her, too.
It was a big night for Cynthia because she took the tall, bejeweled crown and her family was thrilled.
Her mother Deborah had been in pageants in her younger life.
“But, I didn’t really want her to do pageants because they’ve often become such a big business. But this one is so community-based and wholesome,” Deborah says. “This is really her day because she is always following them to all of their games and sports things. But today, all but one brother is here to cheer her on.”
Cynthia gets used to her tall tiara, as she eyes the other sparkling items of the night; the luring lights and rides of the fair adjacent to the stage are summoning all of the pageant contestants.
Within minutes, Castlemain, complete with pageant gown, her new sash and crown, kicks off her high heels and slipped on some tree-hugger worthy sandals. She is fair-bound. After all, her brothers had already vanished into the neon lights and corn dog stands and she had to keep up with them.
The Great Eight
Saturday is a peak night for pageant attendance because it’s a weekend and also because the eight tiniest contestants stroll around on the stage smiling and giggling to their family fan clubs.
Charming as they are in their colorful gowns that they know only as princess dresses, they pop out onto the stage like the spotlight would catch a baby fawn in headlights. But very quickly, their apprehension turns to purpose as they begin to practice what they’ve learned from Boone, their families and the older girls.
They impress the judges and audience with waves, big smiles, cute moves, pivots and curtsies. Some rush through their stage time and some stretch it out as long as possible.
Lesley Boone is on the ground in front of the stage, quietly orchestrating the kids coming and going as the crowd claps and cheers.
The little ones show a lot of courage to walk the stage and twirl around in their pageant best. Their eyes are looking at their families first.
A relative and another sibling to one of the contestants steps up to get closer to the stage so they can videotape their young beauty queens.
Out comes MaKenzie Kohlmeyer, 4, contestant No. 8. Like a little Shirley Temple without the thick ringlets, she smiles, waves and tickles everyone to bits.
Not long after, she was crowned Tiny Miss Keller and her family was thrilled.
Goody bags filled with cuddly, stuffed animals and colorful, smaller, plastic tiaras were there for everyone on the stage so that they, too, could enjoy being a little princess that night.
Life was good at the 2016 Keller Lions Club Fair.
Clare Miers is a free lance writer/photographer from Dallas who was truly impressed with the authenticity of the event and all who were involved.
2016 Keller Lions Club Pageant Winners:
Senior Miss Keller- Alexis Montgomery
Montgomery is in the 8th grade at ISMS has a 4.0 GPA. She’s in the Theater Pro School and swims with the Barracuda Swim Club. She’s hoping to join the KHS Indianettes.
Little Miss Keller- Sophia Lane
Lane is 8 years-old and is home schooled. She loves the subject of math and she takes karate lessons, gymnastics and acting classes. She's a golfer and wants to play professionally if at all possible.
Tiny Miss Keller- MaKenzie Kohlmeyer
Kohlmeyer loves to sing Disney songs and play with her brother. Her bio read on stage noted that she loves to say her prayers before dinner and “often leaving everyone at the table speechless.”
Junior Miss Keller- Cynthia Castlemain
Castlemain is a sixth-grader at Trinity Meadows Intermediate. An “A” student, she plays volleyball and runs track. She has 8 brothers and was born in Cairo, Egypt while her father served in active duty military there.
Fair Queen- Megan Jordan
Jordan is a junior at Keller High School. She’s a 4th year varsity-cheerleader, in the top 20 percent of her class, and a member of the National Honor Society. She hopes to attend Texas Tech University or Oklahoma State University in the future.