Reaching for the crown

June 27, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Here they are ... the Miss Maryland hopefuls.

Beginning tonight at 8 on the stage of The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, 26 young women will smile and sing, smile and dance, and smile in bathing suits, in evening gowns and during on-stage interviews.

They will smile as they answer questions about community service projects they've adopted as their platforms on their journey to try to win the chance to represent the state of Maryland at the Miss America pageant in September in Atlantic City, N.J.

Since the 67th annual Miss Maryland pageant week got underway this past Sunday, the contestants have kept a hectic schedule of appearances and rehearsals.


Three local women - Miss Washington County Danielle McGarvey, Miss Western Maryland Nikki Gouker and Miss Northern Chesapeake Heather Nevelyn Gross - are competing for the state title and a chance to win more than $15,000 in scholarships awarded to Miss Maryland.


Gross, 21, of Boonsboro says she does all of the things she's doing for the pageant anyway. She plays the trumpet, she's a leader, she's a volunteer firefighter. Gross will graduate from Penn State University with a major in administration of justice and receive her commission from the U.S. Army in December.

She has been living her platform of fire safety education since she started working toward the community service hours required for high school graduation as a volunteer with Fairplay Volunteer Fire Department.

The Miss Northern Chesapeake pageant is open to young women who live, work or go to school in Maryland, says Anne Tharp, executive director. The pageant was held in Perryville, Md., last November.

Gross, who competed in last year's Miss Maryland competition as Miss Washington County, views her pageant participation as an opportunity to get her message across. "Fire safety is really for everyone," she says.

Miss Western Maryland Nikki Gouker has similar thoughts. This weekend's competition will be her fourth attempt at the Miss Maryland crown.

Pageants used to be about glamor and celebrity, Gouker, 22, says, but she views the event as an opportunity to be a role model, to be taken seriously and to be an advocate for deaf awareness and basic sign language.

Nikki Gouker also plans to go to graduate school, pursuing a master's in interpretation.

The seeds of her platform, HANDS - Helpers Are Needed for Deaf Signing - were planted when she was a second grader. She still has the card with the sign alphabet that a teacher from the Maryland School for the Deaf gave her in a classroom visit. Gouker, a recent Shepherd College graduate who hopes to find a job as an educational interpreter with Frederick County (Md.) schools, has written a book the National Association of the Deaf has agreed to publish, "Deafness is Everywhere - Friends Forever." Gouker's story features a fifth-grader named Nikole.

Miss Washington County Danielle McGarvey's platform - Teen Violence - also developed from an incident that took place in her younger years. "Columbine," she says in a word.

She was a North Hagerstown High School junior and helped develop the school's "Help Fight Hate" Web site, a forum for people - from anywhere - to express their thoughts and feelings, to "increase the peace." More recently she's been talking to different organizations - to parents and schools - to explain the value of peer mediation.

The Miss Maryland contestants will have to compete in the "Artistic Expression in Talent" as well as talk about their platforms. McGarvey, 19, will dance a ballet en pointe to "Kitrie Variations" from "Don Quixote," something that gave her the non-finalist talent award at last year's state pageant when she competed as Miss Potomac.

"It's my peace," the College of Charleston sophomore says of dancing. "It's where I can find myself."

And just how do these young women feel about walking across the stage in front of hundreds of people in their bathing suits in the physical fitness (read swimsuit) part of the competition?

It's good to show that you are fit, says McGarvey, whose ambition is to be a health and wellness entrepreneur. And, she points out, that part of the competition counts for only 10 percent of the judging.

"I really don't have a problem with it," Gouker says. Obesity and overweight-related health problems are a big problem in our country, she says. "Fitness and heath need to be a priority."

Gross jokes that the "dreaded swimsuit" part of competition kept her from eating the black-eyed Susan cookies at a recent pre-pageant tea. But being fit - her ROTC regimen includes daily pushups - doesn't hurt her. "I think it's important that you have confidence in yourself wherever you are."

If you go . . .

2002 Miss Maryland Scholarship Pageant

Tonight, Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29, 8 p.m.

The Maryland Theatre

21 S. Potomac St.


Tickets cost $10 for tonight's preliminary competition, $15 for Friday's preliminary competition and $30 for final competition Saturday evening.

They are available at the box office in the theater's new administrative office at 27 S. Potomac St. For information, call 301-790-2000.

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