A participation problem has put the future of the annual Miss Tullahoma pageant in jeopardy, event organizers say.
According to Pageant Director Sharon Woodard, this year’s pageant, a longstanding Tullahoma High School tradition, has seen record-low number of signups, which puts the event at risk of indefinite suspension.
Because of this, Woodard is putting out a communitywide call to encourage young women and girls to sign up for the May 19 event.
“Miss Tullahoma encourages girls to get out of their comfort zone and learn poise and confidence,” Woodard said of the annual event. She added the pageant gives young women and girls who participate the opportunity to experience something new.
Over the last few years, according to Woodard, Miss Tullahoma has seen a steady decline in the number of participants, which has caused concern for all those involved in the pageant.
Since around 2007, Woodard said, the pageant has struggled to get girls to sign up for the events.
“That was when the auditorium was condemned,” she said, “and we had to move the date and location of the pageant.”
That year saw the pageant held in the gymnasium, followed by a few years of Grace Baptist Church hosting the event while the high school auditorium was being refurbished. The numbers during those years dropped from around 75 total contestants to around 40 or so, Woodard said.
Since then, the pageant has routinely seen between just 30 to 35 contestants split between the three separate distinctions of Little Miss, Junior Miss and Miss Tullahoma.
If not enough people sign up, the pageant won’t be sustainable, meaning coordinators will have to cease putting it on – an unprecedented move in nearly 60 years, according to Woodard.
The pageant typically needs around 30 participants per pageant in order to be pulled off successfully, Woodard said.
The Little Miss needs no fewer than 20 entrants; Junior Miss needs no fewer than 25 entrants; and Miss Tullahoma needs a minimum 35 contestants in order to continue, Woodard said.
As of Friday, May 4, Woodard said she had just five Little Miss entries, six Junior Miss contestants and eight Miss Tullahoma signups.
Without more girls signed up, Woodard said she fears the pageant will be cancelled for this year.
Keeping the tradition alive
Keeping the pageant going for this long – the first recorded pageant was held in 1958 – hasn’t been without its challenges, according to Woodard.
During the time when the THS auditorium was being refurbished, several event organizers had the thought of discontinuing the pageant altogether.
“Several of us fought to keep it alive,” Woodard said, and organizers came up with the idea of adding a middle school section of the pageant in order to make the investment of time and labor it takes from faculty, staff and numerous volunteers to pull the event off worth the effort.
The low numbers Woodard has seen over the last few years make her worry that what she wants to keep going just isn’t feasible in today’s culture.
“I dislike the thought of not having this available to those students who find joy and value in the program,” she said, but what she’s seen of the declining interests in pageants present an enormous obstacle.
“The culture, priorities and attitudes of students have been shifting for quite some time,” Woodard said. “It feels like this year may be the end of an era.”
The pageant is currently split into three separate events: Little Miss Tullahoma, Junior Miss Tullahoma and Miss Tullahoma.
Little Miss Tullahoma is held for children ages 4 to 6, though Woodard said girls may be 7 years old if they are in the first grade.
Junior Miss Tullahoma is for middle-school girls – grades six, seven and eight.
Miss Tullahoma is strictly for high school girls who attend Tullahoma High School (THS), according to Woodard. All grades are eligible to participate.
In addition to the girls competing for titles, the pageant also sees about a dozen high school boys working as escorts for the entrants.
These young men spend their free time working both on and off the stage in order to help make the 10-hour-day run smoothly, according to Woodard.
In its current form, the pageant serves as a fundraiser for THS at large, according to Woodard. Some of the things the money raised provides include various classroom supplies and landscaping maintenance, she said.
Funds come from both the $10 entry fee contestants must pay as well as ticket sales to the event.
Event tickets cost $10 as well, according to Woodard.
Originally Woodard said the deadline for Miss Tullahoma entries was Tuesday, May 8, but given the circumstances, that deadline has now been extended.
Woodard said she will accept any entries up until pageant practice, which takes place from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16 in the THS Auditorium.
Those wishing to sign their girls up for the pageants may contact certain offices depending upon which pageant they want to enter.
Entrants for Little Miss Tullahoma should contact the THS main office and secretary Rhonda Milleville.
Junior Miss Tullahoma participants should register at either East or West Middle schools.
Those interested in registering for Miss Tullahoma should contact THS Librarian Chris Holiday.
There is a $10 fee for participation in each of the pageants, according to Woodard.
For more information on the pageant or answers to any questions, contact Woodard at 931-273-5072.
Erin McCullough may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.