Four new Miss Destin contestants stood in a line in front of a semi-circle of chairs filled with pageant volunteers. Rachel McMullen, who was crowned Miss Destin in 2017, stood at the end of the line in a dark green floral dress, white Miss Destin silk sash, and a sparkling crown.
The Miss Destin Soda Party was held on Tuesday afternoon in the Rodeo Gallery Room of the Destin History & Fishing Museum.
A table full of tea sandwiches, cupcakes, crackers, and dip, along with a large pink lily flower arrangement was set up on one side of the room, and a small table with a few liters of Coke and Sprite was set up on the opposite side.
Helen Donaldson, executive director of the Destin Fishing Rodeo, spoke about upcoming events that the contestants would be participating in before the Miss Destin Pageant on April 21 at the Destin Community Center.
"Please bring your parents and siblings to all of the events leading up to the pageant, but leave your boyfriends at home," Donaldson said, laughing.
The girls looked at one another, smiling.
"We don’t think that will be a problem," one of the contestants chimed. "I don’t think any of us are dating someone."
After Donaldson went through the schedule, she dismissed the girls to mingle and make a plate of food.
"I’m excited to do this again but from a different perspective," said McMullen. "I’m friends with every single one of these girls, so getting to mentor them through the process means a lot."
The girl who is crowned Miss Destin 2018 will fulfill her duties by attending certain community events--the biggest one being the Destin Fishing Rodeo, where she will take photos with anglers, fish, and other members of the community everyday after school in the month of October.
"The commitment is huge," said Donaldson. "They’re committing themselves to be at the Fishing Rodeo docks for 31 days in October, and not to mention the events leading up to the awards. We have a really great, talented group of girls this year."
The contestants, Ellen Brown, Lauren Adams, Brooke O’Keefe, and Dani Locht, have all grown up in Destin and are very familiar with the importance of fishing within the local culture.
"My babysitter growing up was Miss Destin, and I always wanted to be like her," said Brown, who attends Niceville High School. "Miss Destin has always been a part of my life in that way."
Brown said she has been waiting to turn 16 so she could enter into the pageant.
All of the girls shared unique stories as to why they wanted to compete for the crown.
"My first memory hearing about Miss Destin was when my parents took me down to the docks for the Pin Fish Classic when I was about 4-years-old," said O’Keefe, a Fort Walton Beach High School sophomore. "I saw Miss Destin helping all the kids fish and I looked up to her like a Disney princess. The Rodeo really feels like Disney to me."
Adams has aspired to be Miss Destin since she was little.
Adams, who is also a sophomore at Fort Walton Beach High School, was born and raised in Destin and is competing for the community aspects.
"Miss Destin means helping my community. I love my community—it means a lot to me because I grew up here so being a part of it and talking to people is a big thing for me," she said.
Locht, a Fort Walton Beach High School junior, recalled her first experience with Miss Destin.
"Miss Destin has a special place in my heart," Locht said. "My mom passed away when I was 10-years-old from cancer, and I remember seeing Miss Destin during the Mardi Gras parade. I looked up at Miss Destin and thought she was a princess-like figure and told my mom I was going to do that one day."
For Locht, Miss Destin is a way to honor her mother.
"I don’t have her now and it’s harder, but I’m still going to do everything to make her proud," Locht said. "Being Miss Destin means representing her and representing Destin by going to the Fishing Rodeo everyday, which is something I absolutely love."