The Miss Arkansas Scholarship Organization announced on May 8 that its 2020 state pageant would be rescheduled to June 2021. The decision came after the Miss America Organization’s announcement of a postponed national pageant, which would have taken place in the coming winter season.
The rescheduling leaves 46 eager candidates for the Miss Arkansas crown in waiting and 36 candidates for the teen crown, many with education and jobs on the line. It also means that Darynne Dahlem, Miss Arkansas 2019, and Sarah Cate Lay, Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen 2019, will remain Arkansas royalty for another year.
Dahlem, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, competed in the Miss Arkansas Organization for five years before claiming the title. This year, she had plans to attend medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences after passing the name of Miss Arkansas down to another queen. Despite the rescheduling, she plans to follow through on her plans, just with the crown still in place.
“We had a conference call with the Miss America organization,” Dahlem told AY Magazine. “That is where I found out. Immediately, I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew I wanted to keep the crown. I just didn’t know how I would do it.”
Working with Jessie Bennett, the executive director of the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Organization, and the board, Dahlem’s plan is to maintain the tangible presence and image of Miss Arkansas. In regard to scheduling, her availability will shift due to medical school. However, she plans on allocating daytime appearances, such as visiting schools, out to the Class of 2020 contestants, while still personally maintaining her presence at bigger events such as parades and festivals, as COVID-19 allows.
“Each contestant of the Miss Arkansas Class of 2020 has her own story and her own message to share,” Dahlem said. “This will allow them exposure and experience in the event that one day, they will actually be Miss Arkansas.”
For both the state and local titleholders, the Miss America and Miss Arkansas organizations gave them the opportunity to choose between resigning from their positions or continuing to serve their state or region. Miss Arkansas candidates have been given until July to determine how they want to proceed.
“It doesn’t affect my plans, but for some young women in the organization, it will,” Miss Ouachita Baptist University, Caroline Derby said. “Several candidates have jobs, and some have finished college and have entered graduate schools. For them, rescheduling the pageant could affect their personal lives.”
Derby was crowned as Miss OBU in February 2020 as a freshman. She will now hold the title until spring of 2022. Even though half of her college career will be spent with the same title, as many young contestants will, Derby sees it as an opportunity to hone in on her involvement as Miss OBU on campus.
For Izzy Baughn, Miss Texarkana Twin Rivers, the news of a postponement left her considering how preparation for the state pageant will shift with another year added, rather than just a few weeks.
“It was hard news to swallow,” Baughn said. “Right now is prime preparation season, and girls, including myself, were working day in and day out to be the best version of themselves. There is so much that comes with preparation for this competition. It is more than learning to answer a question the ‘right way,’ or just to walk in just the right manor. This organization is full service.”
Despite the inevitable hardships the news has placed on the world of pageantry, the Miss Arkansas Organization is confident that this year will provide growth and betterment of the system.
“Here in Arkansas, we plan to spend the next year with three things in focus,” Bennett said. “First, growing our scholarship program for dollars to be awarded next summer. Second, we are investing in our contestants with practical knowledge, growth and life skill education that they may or may not get in formal education. Finally, we will be investing in the scholarship donors and partners in small business that continue to invest in our young women. We feel that this extra time allotted can really give our young women an advantage as they look to enter the workplace and college environments if we spend the time investing in them strategically.”
As for Miss Arkansas 2019, she will have the eyes of the state on her as she leads the way through unprecedented waters: a current Miss Arkansas in the labs of medical school.
“My purpose this next year is to continue to make the job of Miss Arkansas a visual and relevant one,” Dahlem said. “It is on my shoulders, as well as Miss America’s and the rest of the state titleholders, to maintain the importance of Miss America to our society, especially now. I know I can do this.”
Images courtesy of Miss Arkansas Scholarship Organization and Danny Barger Photography