She knew that she had won the title, but until the crown was actually placed on her head, it just didn't seem real.
Gold Bar resident Katelyn Baller was encouraged by a family friend and mentor to compete in the Washington State National American Miss (NAM) pageant, and due to the different criteria established for competition in her age division, Baller was able to compete and win the Miss Washington title prior to the actual pageant taking place.
From there it was a long three-month wait to get her crown, but finally, the day arrived. The Washington State National American Miss Pageant took place on August 9 and 10 in Tacoma. Katelyn traveled to the pageant with her mom, Patty.
"It was really cool walking in there and seeing her face as she realized it was actually happening,GÇ¥ said Patty.
The situation was atypical since Katelyn already knew that she had won the Miss division title. Since none of the other age divisions had competed yet, she had no way of knowing who her new sister-queens were going to be. Typically, during pageants, the girls bond during competition, and then after new division winners are crowned, sister-queen bonds are immediately formed.
Katelyn had to wait a day to learn who her sister-queens would be, but fortunately, NAM officials put her right to work, helping to check in the younger girls and get them situated.
"When I got there they welcomed me in as family,GÇ¥ said Katelyn.
"She helped interview the little ones,GÇ¥ said Patty. "It was so funny, we couldn't get them to behave - they were all going wild.GÇ¥
Patty explained that, once Katelyn asked the girls to join her in singing "FrozenGÇ¥ songs, they all settled down immediately. Katelyn assisted with check-ins, interviews, formal wear and introductions, and also participated in the pageant-wide pajama party.
To compete in NAM's Miss division, Katelyn was required to submit a resume and a photo, complete a phone interview, and write an essay. In her essay, Katelyn talked about the importance of inner beauty.
"I talked about what I went through during middle school,GÇ¥ said Katelyn. "I grew up with buck teeth and everything, so I got bullied a lot. Then, after I got braces, I thought it would be all better, that no one would bully me. But it still went on.GÇ¥
Katelyn shared that, during her freshman year of high school, she started volunteering with the Sky Valley Academy in Monroe where she became the assistant coach for West Coast Flight's special needs cheer team. Working with the special needs girls really encouraged and inspired Katelyn to rise above the difficulties she had faced at school, and to turn her focus inwards and concentrate on being a good person.
She explained that it was the special needs girls at the academy who really helped her to do that.
"I realized that they don't let anything bother them,GÇ¥ said Katelyn, who still volunteers at the gym.
In addition to her volunteer work with the cheer team, 20-year-old Katelyn works full time for the Sultan School District. Last year she worked as a paraeducator in the district's elementary school autism classroom, and this year she is at Sultan Middle School after being asked to accompany one of her students as he transitioned up to 6th grade.
"I like the middle school a lot,GÇ¥ said Katelyn. "I was welcomed there with open arms and haven't had a bad day since.GÇ¥
While busy with both her job and her volunteer work, Katelyn has also been diligently preparing for NAM's upcoming national competition, and is planning on attending Toastmasters to polish up her public speaking skills. She will also be getting some coaching from Thom Lamoureux, the family friend who thought that NAM would be a good fit for Katelyn.
"From a youth pageant standpoint, National American Miss is, I think, one of the best,GÇ¥ said Lamoureux. "There's none of that "Toddlers in Tiaras' stuff going on.GÇ¥
Pageants like NAM focus on societal contributions and community outreach. They encourage girls to participate in the pageant as a method of increasing confidence and poise, and they offer opportunities to win scholarships and other prizes. A percentage of each contestant's final score is based on community involvement, and girls are encouraged to bring school supplies or books with them to the pageant.
The items later get donated back to the communities near where the pageants take place.
Lamoureux will be offering Katelyn guidance as she prepares to compete at the national competition which will be held in California in November. At the national pageant, Katelyn's Miss division will participate in the traditional manner along with all the other divisions. She will be judged on personal introduction, interview, formal wear and community involvement.
"We'll fly down to California the 23rd of November and we'll come back December 1st. We're going to make a big family trip out of it,GÇ¥ said Patty.
When it comes to community involvement, Katelyn has proven herself to be adept. She and her mom, Patty, are the co-directors of the Miss Gold Dust pageant, which takes place each year during the Gold Dust Days celebration in Gold Bar. Like NAM, the Miss Gold Dust pageant emphasizes community service rather than outer beauty, and both Katelyn and Patty encourage their girls to perform extensive community service throughout the year.
The pageant itself also serves as a food drive, which this year benefited Kelly Clifton's Operation Full Bellies organization along with the Sultan Food Bank.
For Katelyn's NAM work, she wants to start a new program called "Take a Bite out of IlliteracyGÇ¥ which would provide an opportunity for Sky Valley youth to participate in a book exchange and also gather for presentations during which local authors or other members of the community would come and read stories.
She is planning on competing in some optional competitions during the national pageant. Optional competitions do not factor in to the girls' final scores, but are a great way for participants to get a feel for the stage and to increase their level of comfort in front of a crowd. Katelyn will be doing two casual wear competitions, actress and spokes model.
Katelyn and Patty have high praise for the NAM organization.
"They were wonderful,GÇ¥ said Patty. "During her crowning they gave us front row seats. They were just so accommodating.GÇ¥
For more information on NAM, please visit: http://www.namiss.com/.