Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW The United States has been honoring the best young women with the Miss America Pageant since 1921. "Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a real combination of beauty, grace and intelligence, artistic and refined. She is a type which the American Girl might well emulate," the official pageant Web site (www.missamerica.org) states.
A former East Longmeadow resident is aiming for the title of Miss America next month. Carly Claffey, who was Miss East Longmeadow in 2003, Miss Bay State in 2005 and currently holds the title of Miss Oakland, will be challenging 54 other West Coast girls to become Miss California and move onto the Miss America Pageant from June 25 through 28.
Claffey cites the Miss East Longmeadow Pageant as the reason she was able to attend the college she wanted Simmons College in Boston because without the scholarship money she won in the pageant, the prestigious school would have been out of her financial reach.
"The scholarship money was a big incentive," Claffey told Reminder Publications. "I was very determined."
The Miss East Longmeadow Pageant, which Claffey said is usually ranked in the top five pageants in the nation for scholarship funds, did not take place last year and did not take place this year.
The East Longmeadow Jaycees host the pageant but as of 2008, "it's kind of on the back burner," according to Maureen Basile, the Jaycees secretary and the person in charge of the pageant.
In 2007, Miss America drastically changed a portion of its program and the Jaycees felt local contestants did not have enough time to fulfill the new demands, Basile said.
The resignation of key people within the local program led to holes in the leadership, she added.
That's the same reason the pageant did not take place this year. "We don't have enough experienced people," Basile said. "People say they're missing [the pageant], but no one's stepping up to the plate to help out."
She has a goal of bringing back the Miss East Longmeadow Pageant by 2009 but said it will more realistically be back in 2010. For that to happen, however, the Jaycees need someone with graphic skills to put together the program for the event and someone with theatrical experience (production, staging, lighting and sound) to help produce the event itself.
"It's a great bonding experience for mothers and daughters and it turns young girls into confident young women," Basile stated. "It's a very unique experience it's hard to put into words. The girls gain confidence and learn things they need for life, like interview skills and public speaking skills."
Claffey is a "fantastic, dynamic" example of what the Miss East Longmeadow Pageant can do for young women, according to Basile.
When asked if she was nervous about competing for Miss California, Miss Oakland said she is and is not at the same time. "I'm really comfortable in myself and I know myself really well," Claffey stated, "and I always take something away from a pageant, even if it's just 54 new friends."
She said she was "really sad" when she discovered the Miss East Longmeadow Pageant hadn't taken place in two years because of what the young girls in town are missing out on.
"Two years without a pageant that's about 20 girls without money for education and who would've grown and learned more about themselves," she said. "It was a very formative experience for me and think there could've been a Miss America in there."
Although she is currently living in California with her boyfriend and their dog Summer, Claffey said if she returns to East Longmeadow, she would assist in bringing the pageant back.
"It absolutely needs to come back to East Longmeadow," she said. "It has such a long history of helping with scholarships."
Those interested in resurrecting the pageant can visit the Jaycees Web site at www.eljaycees.org.