The 10 contestants for Miss Lawrence 1999 have been preparing mind and body for the upcoming competition.
Watching themselves in the mirror at a dance studio last week, several young women practiced walking with their high heels on.
Only a handful of people could see them.
Saturday there may be hundreds watching as the women step onto the stage for the revived and revamped Miss Lawrence Scholarship Pageant.
"Ninety-eight percent of people would rather die than get up in front of people," said Kelly Murphy, 20, one of the 10 women vying for Miss Lawrence 1999. "You're putting yourself on the line. ... There's always that fear that you'll do something stupid."
Contestants have been preparing for the pageant, which will include talent, evening wear and swimsuit competitions, for weeks. Besides working on their stage presence, they have honed their interviewing skills and researched their platforms, or critical-issue positions.
Preparing for the crowd
The contestants have made sure they can walk in their heels with grace; they have picked out swimsuits and evening gowns to wear. They've also gotten tips from experts at group meetings on walking and interviewing.
"We give guidance, and we help them to prepare as best we can," said Lee Beth Dever, the program director. "What I want ... is to give each contestant a chance to be judged fairly."
Sara Horken, 18, said she had been practicing walking in the shoes she'll be wearing.
"They're just about four inches (high)," she said. "They're not too bad, once you get used to them."
Murphy said she hadn't varied her daily routine too much.
"I just constantly prepare because I compete (in pageants) a lot," she said. "I work out all the time for swimsuit. ... It doesn't always help."
Competing in a swimsuit doesn't bother her.
"We're are promoting physical fitness and that we are women and we are beautiful," she said.
And besides, she added, "once you can get up on stage in a swimsuit and feel confident, you can do anything."
One of the fun parts of competing, the women said, is the chance to dress up.
"I'm borrowing one of my friend's dresses," Kamra Scherich, 22, said. "I probably tried on 20 different dresses."
She bought a swimsuit; she said she needed a new one anyway.
Horken picked her evening gown out at a specialty shop in Kansas City. She found the perfect dress, she said, though it had to be altered several sizes to fit her.
"I have to admit, going out and trying to find a wardrobe is a ball," Murphy said.
What to say
Aside from the cosmetic preparations, the contestants have to prepare a paper on their platform or critical issue.
"It's pretty much the most important part; otherwise you don't have too much to talk about," Murphy said.
She chose her topic, cystic fibrosis awareness, because she has a friend who has the disease.
"My goal is basically to alert the public to what cystic fibrosis is," she said. " ... We're here to make a difference."
Scherich had been researching her topic, the importance of cancer research, to write her paper.
"I've had to do some research on the Internet for that," she said.
At a practice session last week the contestants worked on their interviewing skills, preparing for the fourth area of competition -- the interview. Horken was glad for the practice sessions, even though this isn't her first pageant.
"They gave me a lot of good tips about my interview and walking," she said. What she is getting nervous about is her talent performance, a jazz dance.
"I've been in dance recitals since I was 2, so getting on stage is no problem," she said, but "... I get really nervous when I do a dance. I always want to make sure it's down and everything is perfect."
Scherich has been practicing her display of talent, too.
"I'm playing my English horn, so I had to transpose a part so it was in the right key," she said. "I'm already nervous."
A new pageant
This year's Miss Lawrence pageant is a new program associated with the Miss America organization. The former Miss America local competition, Miss KU-Lawrence, had faded, drawing only three entrants last year.
When Dever, the program director, moved to Lawrence four months ago she found that the old program had "fizzled out." She had been very active in pageants in Arkansas before moving, and so took on the task of starting a new program.
Dever spent time meeting with businesses and organizations, looking for sponsors and trying to explain the pageant.
"When you think of the Miss Lawrence program, you do think of a beauty pageant," she said. That's not what the program is about today, she said; it's a youth mentoring program.
"We have a whole group of women who can be available to service community events," she said. Miss Lawrence and all the contestants are available to make appearances and help with community events.
"It benefits the community; it benefits the young women," she said.
The difference from a beauty pageant is that "we are promoting these young women for the important things they have to say and their beliefs and their issues," Dever said. "We are looking at the woman inside."
When scoring the contestants, talent counts for 40 percent of their score, the interview is 30 percent, and evening wear and swimsuit categories count for 15 percent each.
-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.