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The race for the crown is heating up

Miss Mitchell Pageant Executive Director Tessa Dee speaks with Mitchell High School students Jan. 4 about participating in the Miss Mitchell Pageant on Jan. 12 at the Mitchell School District Performing Arts Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)

On Saturday, beauty, poise and a meaningful cause takes center stage.

Contestants of the Miss Mitchell and Miss Mitchell Outstanding Teen competition are fluffing their dresses, rehearsing speeches and preparing for interviews with the judges for this year's pageant that will be held at the Mitchell School District's Performing Arts Center this weekend.

Tessa Dee, a former Miss South Dakota and the Executive Director of the Miss Mitchell organization brought the pageant back to the community last year after the Miss Mitchell competition took an estimated 35-year hiatus.

The contestants will meet in the morning on Saturday, Jan. 12, for final dress rehearsals before the evening show program kicks off at 7 p.m. featuring all the current titleholders.

"We had a lot of success last year and I am excited to be back in Mitchell with this competition," Dee said. "We will be showcasing a lot of local talents, among them a performance by the dance group Core Kinetics."

Miss Mitchell Chesney Garnos, Outstanding Miss Mitchell Teen McKenzie Norton, Miss South Dakota Carrie Wintle, Miss South Dakota's Outstanding Teen Jessica Benson will all be in attendance to present, coach and assist at the pageant.

For Norton, 18, of Mitchell, her one-year reign as Outstanding Miss Mitchell Teen has gone by too fast.

"I will absolutely be sad to give up my title," Norton said. "I will miss all the opportunities this experience has given me."

Norton created a platform in 2018 she called the You Matter Project, visiting local schools and holding speaking events at churches while spreading a message of self-esteem and self-love.

"Through the pageant, I've had the opportunity to show what is in my heart and show young people how much they matter," Norton said. "I wanted to teach young kids to be themselves and not to conform to what they think people expect them to be."

For winning the local competition last year Norton received a $200 scholarship, and another $1,000 scholarship for competing in the Miss Teen South Dakota competition.

"The funds were super helpful for my college classes," Norton said. "And my experiences in the classrooms at our elementary schools, have definitely helped me prepare for my career."

Norton is a senior at Mitchell High School, but has already completed 54 college credits in her fourth semester at Dakota Wesleyan University through the Bridge Program, a formal partnership between two educational institutions that provide students with advanced standing in a degree program. In the fall, she plans to attend Northwestern College in Iowa to complete her degree in education.

Both title winners of this year's pageant will go on to the Miss South Dakota and Miss South Dakota Outstanding Teen competition this summer, after completing a boot camp in Brookings in June. Winners of the state competition will move on to the Miss America pageant later this year.

Tickets for the Miss Mitchell award show are $5, and all proceeds go toward the scholarship program of the organization.