BELLEVILLE — After a one-year absence caused by upheaval in the national program, the Kansas Junior Miss program is returning to this Republic County town, where it had been staged for 44 years.
Pageant organizers and city officials say the return of the pageant on March 16-17 is good for the participants and for the economic health of the town of about 2,400.
The Kansas pageant moved to Topeka last year, after the national Junior Miss organization lost all its sponsors and several states, including Kansas, pulled out of the program.
Before that, the pageant had been in Belleville since 1961.
"A lot of states panicked and thought maybe there wasn't going to be a program anymore," said Rod Woods, of Belleville, chairman of the Kansas Junior Miss program.
Woods has organized a new 15-member board, which has decided to bring the program back to Belleville.
The program has long been an economic and public relations boost for Belleville, Woods said.
"Economically, small towns in Kansas are really hurting," Woods said. "They're struggling to keep their identity. Quite honestly, this program brings a lot of energy, a lot of positive things into the community for a week."
During the pageant, about 25 high school seniors compete in scholastics, physical fitness, presence, talent and interview categories. Category winners receive $500 cash scholarships, with $1,500 to $2,000 for the overall winner.
"It's based on grades, on talent, on the ability to interview," said Rebecca Brown, a member of the Kansas Junior Miss board of directors. "It's not beauty. It's not a beauty pageant in any way."
Brown's 18-year-old daughter, Kendra, is the reigning Kansas Junior Miss, winning the 2006 event in Topeka.