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For the first time since the Miss Lakeland was revived three pageants ago, most of the winners have Lakeland backgrounds. Out of five 2020 winners — Misses Lakeland, Swan City, Polk County, Lakeland Teen and Polk County Teen — two claim Lakeland as home and a third lived here until recently and hopes to move back.
Entrants from anywhere in Florida can compete in Miss Lakeland, and the 2018 and 2019 winners had to travel here for events, mostly from the Orlando area.
The reason the competition is open statewide to begin with is to make sure there are enough contestants to award a title, said Christine Boring, executive director for the Miss Lakeland Pageant for the last three years.
“This is the first year we attracted so many local competitors and have them win,” Boring said. “We have picked up more and more local competitors each year.”
Lakeland went about eight years without representation in the annual January Miss Florida pageant because there was no local director, Boring said.
Then in 2016, the Miss Florida pageant was relocated from St. Petersburg to Lakeland, and Boring thought the host city should be represented.
“I went to the City Commission in 2018 and asked if they would help to sponsor the competition and they agreed, donating the use of the Lake Mirror Theatre,” she said.
It means more to the community when title winners are local, said Julie Townsend, head of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority and a judge for this year’s competition.
“If the Miss Lakeland competition wants to grow and have more recognition in the community, the title holders have to have a presence,” she said. “It is much easier to have a presence when you are local.”
Besides, local winners resonate better with the community, Townsend said.
“I think it also makes it more likely to have more contestants for future years,” she said. “I know it is not guaranteed to have a local winner, but if women and girls see locals winning, I think it makes it more likely to have more local women and girls compete.”
The Miss Florida website shows 17 contestants for the five local titles. Ten women competed for the three “miss” titles and seven for the two teen titles.
The 2020 winners
Miss Lakeland is Megan Price
Price is a 2019 graduate of Florida Southern College and is teaching in Lee County. She is looking for an opportunity in journalism in the Lakeland area and plans to return to Lakeland as soon as a job opens up for her. Her platform is “Organ Donation – Be a Life Saver” and she volunteers with Donate Life Florida.
Miss Polk County is Gracie Westerfield.
Westerfield is a student at Florida Southern College. She is also a vocalist. Her platform is “No Excuse for Abuse.” She volunteers with domestic violence organizations along with the SPCA, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Miss Swan City is Abigail Kenny.
Kenny, a vocalist, lives in Tampa. She is an automotive presenter employed by Gale and Rice Connex and travels all over the country. Her platform is “Taking the Stigma from Mental Health Issues.” She has volunteered with suicide prevention and presents a program in schools to encourage students to identify and talk about mental and emotional issues they are facing.
Miss Lakeland’s Outstanding Teen is Sage Koury.
Koury is a junior at George Jenkins High School. She is a vocalist and has had extensive training and vocal competition experience. Her platform is working with teen girls to promote self-esteem and confidence. She is volunteering with PACE Center for Girls and Girls Inc.
Miss Polk County Teen is Anna Katherine Risalvato
Risalvato lives in Panama City but decided to compete at Miss Lakeland because she has a brother attending Florida Polytechnic University and her family comes to Lakeland often, Boring said. She is 14 years old and a dancer.
(Photos used with permission of Miss Lakeland.)
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