By Luke Britt/Editor
The contestants for the 60th Annual Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival pageants have been announced, and with nearly 70 babies, girls and young women registered to compete in seven categories, the pageant now has six golden tickets to bestow Saturday night, Jaycee President and Pageant Director Ashley Owen said Saturday.
“These pageants mean so much more than just the title of Miss Watermelon Festival,” Owen said. “For some of these young women, it’s their golden ticket to something greater, to thousands of dollars in scholarship money to help them achieve a college education and it propels them into a life of leadership and community service.”
The Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival is member of the national Miss America Organization, and as such, the winners are eligible to compete for the title of Miss Louisiana and Miss Louisiana Teen when that pageant occurs next year.
Per the guidelines established by the national organization, the number of winners that can advance to the Miss Louisiana and Miss Louisiana Teen competitions is relative to the size of the local contestant field, and this year’s pageant field is large enough to advance three winners in each of the Miss and Teen categories.
The crowns to be bestowed on Saturday are:
- Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival
- Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival Teen
- Miss Union Parish
- Miss Union Parish Teen
- Belle of the D’Arbonne
- Belle of the D’Arbonne Teen
An additional winner – the People’s Choice Award – will be awarded based on votes cast during the pageant on the festival’s website louisianawatermelonfestival.org.
More than $8,000 in scholarship money will be awarded Saturday night to the winners in the Teen and Miss categories, all of which has been donated by Union Parish businesses and individuals, Owen said.
A Union Parish representative has won the Miss Louisiana pageant seven times, the first time occurring in 1957, six years before the first Louisiana Watermelon Festival was held in Farmerville. At that time, the pageant crowned a Miss Union Parish, and when the Watermelon Festival was established in 1963 the organizers merged that pageant into the festivities and the Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival pageant was born.
The Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival Teen has gone on to win Miss Louisiana Teen six times.
Gracie Reichman of Colfax was the most recent Watermelon Festival queen to be crowned Miss Louisiana, winning the title in 2022. Reichman, whose multiple pageant victories earned her more than $80,000 in scholarship money and helped pay for the Kinesiology and Health Sciences degree she obtained from Louisiana Tech, relinquished her crown in June to Miss Louisiana 2023, MaKenzie Scroggs of Marksville.
“You know Gracie is now a Jaycee, and is working with us to ensure the pageant is a success,” Owen said. “That’s important to remember. These pageants bind these young women to our community. They represent us throughout the state and sometimes beyond that.”
Owen said Union Parish has been fortunate with the energy and dedication its recent pageant winners have shown. Kaitryana Leinbach, Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival 2018, “represented us well for years before she rose to a position in the office of the first lady of the state. The work that begins for them here and the connections they make as part of that is leading them to do much bigger and better things for the whole state.”
Once crowned, Owen said the Miss and Teen winners will have the honor to wear the same cape that has been worn by Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival winners over several decades. Lost to time until a few years ago when a facebook post led to the cape’s discovery in an attic, the cape has been cared for, modified and repaired many times over the years and even bears a mark where someone tried to press it with a too hot iron.
The Louisiana Watermelon Festival pageant cape has been worn by watermelon queens off and on for decades and has become a symbol of the festival’s place as one the most cherished traditions of Union Parish.
On Thursday, contestants in the Baby, Tiny, Little, Petite and Junior categories are gown competitions only, while the Junior and Teen Princess categories will be judged also on the strength of their interview and fitness performances. Saturday’s Teen and Miss contestants will compete in interview, fitness, on-stage question, talent and evening gown competitions.
At times on Saturday, the Miss and Teen competitors will be escorted by Watermelon Princesses, whose primary job it will be to enhance the visage of the competitors by simply being absolutely precious but who will also be exposed to the challenge of maintaining their composure on stage.
60th Annual Louisiana Watermelon Festival
The Watermelon Princesses will serve as escorts for the contestants during the Miss Louisiana Watermelon Festival pageant Saturday.