Despite some initial indecision over entering the Alaska Junior Miss Scholarship Program, Soldotna High School senior Kara Merrill came away as the big winner Saturday night.
"I'm still in shock," Kara said the afternoon after the program.
According to her mother, Kara hemmed and hawed for weeks before finally committing to the event.
"She didn't know for sure for a long time," said Sharon Merrill. "The biggest thing for her was just deciding to compete."
"I didn't know this existed (a year ago), and I was just going to go and have a good time," Kara said. "Before, I thought, 'This thing seems like a beauty pageant,' and I never would do that.
"But there was not a single girl there that was a typical beauty-queen type."
She said all 15 of the girls got along well.
"We were all rooting for each other. None of us wanted to be the one to win because we wanted the others to win," Kara said.
Six of the contestants were from the central Kenai Peninsula. They competed in five categories: interview, talent, scholastics, fitness and poise.
Kara said the fitness portion of the show -- where the teens did a group aerobic exercise routine -- was the toughest.
"They said we should step up our fitness workouts, but I've been a cross country runner," she said. "We had to do a lot of pushups, jumping jacks and bouncing around. I thought that was the hardest."
The format of the national competition will be the same.
Reean Pitts of Soldotna, state chair of the Alaska Junior Miss franchise, said Kara was a good choice.
"The girls were terrific, and the judges selected a wonderful representative to go to Mobile, Ala., in June to represent Alaska," she said. "We think they are all winners, but the judges had to choose one, and that's Kara. She will be a fine representative."
Breeana Giddings, an East Anchorage High School senior, was first runner-up.
Sharon said her daughter did not know she would have to miss a week of school -- at both SoHi and Kenai Peninsula College -- and work, as the receptionist at Hair Force styling salon, as well as the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce's awards ceremony.
"She was awarded Outstanding Student of the Year by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Friday night, and we had to accept the award for her because she was so busy," Sharon said.
With the $2,000 scholarship as Alaska Junior Miss, $1,000 for overall scholastic achievement and the $1,000 scholarship from the chamber, Kara brought home a total of $4,000 for college in two days.
Her college of choice is Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Being an out-of-state student, the Dean's Scholar-ship she received from the school is not enough to cover her tuition, so her mother said the extra scholarships will come in handy. Her field of study will be broadcast journalism.
"Ultimately I would like to be on an investigative program like Dateline," Kara said. "I'd like to be in front of the camera giving the report."
Kara sang a 90-second version of "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie," but will find a different song for the national competition in June.
"Something that shows more of my vocal talent."
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