VILONIA — Sixteen-year-old Kelsey Theall of Vilonia has been competing in pageants since she was a small child.
During her first pageant, she recalls she fell down as she made her way to the stage. However, she never lost her smile and went on to win the title of Yankee Miss Petite. Recently, she was selected to represent Arkansas in the Miss American Teen pageant to be held in Orlando, Fla., the week of Thanksgiving where she will be competing against 50 or so other girls.
Theall has been involved since 1994 in the American Coed system. While she enjoys wearing the pretty dresses, Theall said she never enters pageants with her mind on the win but instead for the experience of competing and meeting others.
"I’m not in it to win it but if I do, it is a bonus," Theall said. "I really like meeting the people from all over the country."
Her mother, Cheryl, likes her daughter’s line of thinking. The pageants that her daughter has chosen to enter she said have been based basically on interviews, poise, public speaking and talent.
"We don’t do glitz and glamour," Cheryl Theall said. "We like the coed system because it helps to make well-rounded girls into well-rounded women."
Active at Vilonia High School, the younger Theall is a four-year participant in the school’s cheerleading program. She has earned a spot on the NCA All-American Team and plans to participate in the Walt Disney World Christmas parade in December. She also participates in Beta, FCCLA, FBLA and Mu Alpha Theta. She is a volunteer with Relay for Life, the Athletic Booster Club and Literacy for Children. And, she has recently teamed up with the literacy advocates in Conway to promote "A Bookcase for Every Child" in the Vilonia School District.
The bookcase project was launched in 2005 by Conway volunteers who build bookcases and collect gently used books to be given to children.
Theall realizes the importance of being a good reader and plans to use her pageant platform to promote literacy projects. Even though she is a "straight-A" student, she said, she isn’t a proficient reader.
"I’m a terrible reader," she said. "And, believe me, I know the importance of being a good reader."
Volunteering many hours to read to children, she said, has served as a two-fold project in her life. It has allowed her to building her confidence as a reader and also inspire others to read.
Pageants, she said, are a family affair. Along with her mother, her grandparents Frank and Carolee Cain, accompany her to all the pageants.
Other pageants Theall has won includes Miss Massachusetts Petite and Miss Massachusetts Pre-Teen at age 9.
In the Miss Massachusetts Pre-Teen Pageant, she recalls she was the youngest in the age division, competing against 12- and 13-year-olds. She wasn’t prepared for the win, and neither was her family.
Cheryl Theall said she had prepared her daughter to lose. The family basically stopped by the pageant on their way to Tennessee to vacation. They sat waiting patiently for the pageant to be over allowing them to be on their way.
"She looked six. She was so little compared to the others," Cheryl Theall said. "We went in clearly knowing she was way too young to win. We hoped she might place in the top 5 — where she could go to nationals."
They were ecstatic when she sang and her score placed her in the finals. When they announced her name as being the new Miss Massachusetts Pre-Teen, Cheryl Theall jokingly quoted her dad as saying, "This is the worst thing that could happen to us."
The family moved to Arkansas, and Theall hasn’t participated in pageants for a few years.
"This is my first pageant in six years," Theall said.
Currently, Theall is involved in fundraising for the upcoming pageant. She hopes to raise at least $600 toward expenses. Along with her friends, she plans to be waiting tables at Pizza Inn on Hogan Street in Conway on Aug. 4. She is also seeking sponsorships.
Ultimately, Theall, an 11th-grader, has her sights set on college as well as competing for the title of Miss Arkansas.