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These scholarship pageants are a beautiful idea

February 18, 2013

Plenty of people have chuckled into their bran muffins over the Miss America “scholarship” pageants, and I confess to perhaps — not often, but on occasion — parlaying the label into a cheap laugh or two.

But it is amazing how your mind can be changed when you have the chance to actually meet these young women in person, and are given a free dinner and a couple of gift bags full of swag.

This situation began a couple of months ago when I received a text asking me if I’d care to help judge the Miss Washington County/Miss Western Maryland pageant this month. Naturally, I said yes. I think any time a man in his 50s receives a communique concerning 18- to 24-year-old women and there’s no mention of a restraining order, he is bound to do just about anything he’s asked.

Unlike most things I do, this was something I took seriously. Where beautiful, smart young women are concerned, I blew it the first time around when I was in high school, and I would be hanged if I were to let it happen again.

I studied the contestants’ dossiers and solicited advice on proper questions to ask during the daylong question-and-answer session. I also visited websites like TMZ and Gawker, so as to be conversant in the language of the young.

I stood in front of the mirror, practicing what “rockin’” thing I might say to, for example, contestant Christina Denny: “Whatevs, C-Dens, I’m feelin’ your ‘Special Deeds for Special Needs’ platform, it’s solid as a waking dream, 4 realz.”

I fully planned on being one of the hip, middle-age cats you see in the Just For Men advertisements whose hair is brown, mainly, with just enough gray to indicate wisdom, the overall package being irresistible to women of any age group.

But, as usual, I was hopelessly outgunned.

First, they weren’t kidding about this scholarship thing. If it had been Jeopardy instead of Miss Washington County, the ultimate winner, Paige Dutrow, would have washed the floor with me. These were plenty of honor roll-making, merit scholarship-contending, straight A-earning kids who would be remarkable young women, pageant or no.

So in the end, I decided to keep my mouth shut and attract as little attention as possible. Which I was able to, until the swimsuit competition.

For some reason, I had been pretty much prepared for every contingency, except this. In my defense, they call it the “sportswear” part of the program, which “emphasizes health and fitness.” I don’t know what I was expecting them to come out in — adidas sweatsuits with terrycloth headbands or something.

And, OK, they can call it “sportswear” if they want, but boy howdy.

So, now the dilemma became this: You have 11 drop-dead gorgeous girls parading across the stage in high heels and the rumor of a bathing suit, and I’m like a judge, right? So even though for the past 20 or whatever years I’ve been taught to maintain eye contact or risk cultivating a reputation as a lecherous pig, there is, maybe, probably a — a what, a duty? — to, you know, majorly scope.

I cut my eyes over to Judge Tammy on my right and Judge Donna on my left for clues, but they were studiously taking notes, and (taking notes!?) by this time my hands were shaking too badly to pretend to be writing anything. Judge Chris, the only other male judge, was two seats down, so I couldn’t see how he was handling things. All told, it’s one of those moments in life where you would easily give $600,000 for a pair of sunglasses.

So, yes, I can vouch for the scholarship part. But they haven’t sacrificed anything else in the process, if you know what I’m saying. 4 realz.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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