Pageant means family to local vet
Hairspray, frills, lace and dozens of High Country girls. Add in pop music and Vaseline smiles, and you have the makings of the 2011 High Country Miss Pageant, a time for girls to shine and self-confidence to swell, organizer Shauna Godwin said.
"It's a boost to their self-esteem, and I see them grow every time," she said.
But for one High Country family, it meant more than a crown.
Meet Marc Strickland. With a nervous twitch and eyes on the stage, he seems like any other dad, hoping the world sees how adorable his 19-month-old really is. "I want her to do whatever makes her happy," he smiled.
Talk to him, however, and you'll realize it's more than a competition for the parents of Parker Grace Strickland. "This is the first major thing I've done with Parker," Strickland said.
For the first eight months of her life, he was stationed in Baghdad.
It's more than a competition. It's a milestone he gets to experience, and in person. That's a big deal for the man who had to watch his daughter's birth over the Internet.
"I guess I try to do everything I can now to make up for the time I did miss," Strickland said.
The Appalachian State University police officer doesn't mind spending several hours of a Saturday in a crowded auditorium. There's nowhere else he'd rather be. "I'm just trying to pick up family life where I left it off," he said.
And it's harder than it looks. His own daughter is just now warming up to the delightful idea of "daddy."
"She wasn't really scared of strangers," his wife, Tara Strickland, said, "and, thankfully, she's kind of accepted him."
Tara, who met her husband while they both attended Appalachian State University, can't be more thrilled to have him spend the day at the pageant. "Doing anything as a family is really special," she said.
After all, the alternative is one she can't help but think about.
"The question is always in your mind," she said. "Number one, will he be back?"
It's the support of her friends and family that sustained her for those eight months, she said, friends and family that shared three aisles at the pageant. "We've got our own little cheering section," Tara Strickland said.
And as for Parker, she had lots of smiles for the judges when she was presented on stage.
"I don't think she quite knows what's going on, but she likes putting on her little dress," Marc Strickland said. "She likes blowing kisses and all that cute kind of kid stuff."
And, as the announcer read her name, saying, "She likes eating bananas and swimming," the claps echoed through the auditorium. "Look at her," Marc Strickland said.
While Parker didn't take home the top prize, the dad, who's just happy to have his family back, didn't seem to notice. "She did great," he said.
Baby Miss High Country Sweetheart: Mackenzie Keller
Toddler Miss High Country Sweetheart: Elizabeth Jennings
Tiny Miss High Country Sweetheart: Asha Sanders
Mini Miss High Country Sweetheart: Haley Hodges
Little Miss High Country Sweetheart: Cheney Hester
Junior Miss High Country Sweetheart: Dakota Harmon
Young Miss High Country Sweetheart: Andrea Howell
Overall Little Miss High Country Sweetheart: Leah Hampton
Overall Miss High Country Sweetheart: Madeline Mokal