The cafeteria was abuzz with excitement as young girls in heels paraded across the stage and cheered for each other in preparation for the fifth annual Miss Marlin Pageant at Destin Middle School on Wednesday. 



“The Miss Marlin Pageant is an opportunity for the young ladies of Destin Middle School to gain confidence and experience in public speaking and carrying themselves on stage,” said pageant coordinator and DMS science teacher Sage Mallory.  “Our hope is that these girls will go on to compete in the Miss Destin Pageant and The Distinguished Young Woman of Okaloosa County.”



Current winner of Okaloosa County and State of Florida Distinguished Young Women, Natalie Lawson, was on hand to inform the girls of the opportunities available through pageant programs. 



“I came to give them some tips in what I learned in both the programs I did,” said Lawson, who participated in the Miss Marlin Pageant when she was in eighth grade.



Although pageants have a historical reputation for being based mainly on physical beauty, Mallory assured The Log that her girls know this is not the case for Miss Marlin.



“We talk to the girls about the importance of being able to stand in front of a group of people and about being confident in who you are,” Mallory said. “The pageant is about building self-esteem and confidence, not losing it.”



Stephanie Geary, whose 10-year-old daughter McKenna Geary participated in the pageant, agreed with Mallory saying, “Historically, the pageants were based on beauty, but in this pageant they are being judged on extra-curricular activities. This is introducing the girls to the possibility of where this could lead, an academic scholarship, not a beauty scholarship.”



Another mom, Amy O’Keefe, whose 6th grade daughter Brooke O’Keefe competed, said the pageant is a teachable moment about the intersection of beauty and personality.



“We talked about how everyone is beautiful and everyone is unique,” she said.



Twenty-nine girls competed in this year’s Miss Marlin pageant, and five crowns were awarded on Thursday.



Winners were; Two Junior Beauties: Sierra Cushman, and Sydney Christian, both in fifth grade. Two Senior Beauties: Bailey Simmons, and Kyla McInnis, both in seventh grade.



Miss Marlin 2014, Delaney Decker in eighth grade



It's been a longtime coming for Delaney Decker, but this year she has finally earned the title of Miss Marlin. As a Destin Middle School eighth grader, this year marked the fourth year that Decker competed in the Miss Marlin Pageant.  



"It's really amazing and it’s an honor because I worked so hard," she told The Log, "I'm very passionate about it, and have been working very hard since 5th grade."



Decker shared that she plans to go on and compete in other pageants, using Miss Marlin as a spring-board. She said that Miss Marlin has taught her a lot about pageants and she values most the way the competition focuses on skills and poise as well as beauty. "At Destin it's about poise and how good and experienced you are, not just in one specific thing that maybe others can't do," she said.   



An active softball and volleyball player, as well as church volunteer, Decker said the most important thing about participating in the pageant was just being herself.



"I just had fun with it," she said, "I was not as serious; I was having more fun then pressure on me."



She said her best advice to the younger girls pursuing the Miss Marlin pageant would be to have the same attitude she held.



"Just be yourself and just have fun with it," she said, "don’t get worried that you're not going to win. As long as you're having fun, that's all that matters."



MISS MARLIN PARTICIPANTS



Junior Participants



1. Aubrey Jourdan



2. Brooklyn Shaw



3. Kylie Golden



4. Sierra Cushman



5. Madison Pridgen



6. Delaney Doum



7. Cameron Larumbe



8. Mckenna Geary



9. Ashby Deep



10. Ainsley Barousse



11. Grace Chirum



12. Sydney Christian



13. Brooke O’Keefe



14. Alejandria Laureles



Senior Participants



15. Katalina Pho



16. Delaney Decker



17. Hannah Hammonds



18. Autumn Rivera



19. Bailey Simmons



20. Kylie Woods



21. Julia Zapotocky



22. Briana Verthein



23. Miriam Mendoza



24. Ashlyn Rhea



25. Kyla McInnis



26. Luana Dacunna



27. Danielle Locht



28. Alexis Sparks



29. Shelby Maxwell