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Local Junior Miss gets underway today

By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER Managing editor
Escambia County Junior Miss Orientation begins today at 2 p.m. While the national program will no longer continue next year, state and county programs plan to continue with the tradition. Some local officials are hoping somebody will pick up the slack.
America's Junior Miss officials announced earlier this year it would shut down the program after ratings and participation slowly declined.
Project coordinators cited participatory interest, lack of national corporate sponsors, as well as the fast pace scandalous television shows as the main culprits for the program's end.
When the national corporate sponsor, Coca-Cola, dropped out several years ago, it seemed inevitable to JM coordinators the program would be in a serious slump. Even a name change couldn't bring back the JM enthusiasm.
At the end of this year's last national program, states continuing with the program will no longer be able to use the official name.
Miller added that there will be a state program for 2006 and other states including Mississippi and Florida have confirmed that they will continue with the program, as well.
The county program is another story – interest and support has steadily declined. Miller said that there are not enough people to get out and make personal contacts needed to increase participation. The program will go on, but if the funds aren't available then it isn't worth continuing with the program at a local level.
In fact, of the 25 years, at least 21 of the winning contestants came from W.S. Neal and T.R. Miller high schools.
The Escambia County, Ala., program originally began as a project with the Jaycees, a civic group, Wade said, and eventually her husband Paul, Hugh Miller and others, incorporated the event in 1977.
The project is non-profit and the money goes strictly for the scholarship, and Wade said the program depends heavily on sponsorship.
The main bulk of the money needed is the scholarship money. The rest goes toward paying the $75 franchise fee, food, and often times, ads in the program are swapped to pay for feeding the participants.
The program has come a long way, money-wise, when it used to pay for the material to have dresses made to the financial burden it seems to be today. In fact, Miller said the funds have "about cut it in half from last year."
At last year's county program, the winner received $2,000 cash tuition. Monies are also allocated to preliminary winners including scholastic, talent, fitness, presence and composure and spirit.
As they say, though, "the show must go on."
The first practice and orientation will be held at Flomaton High School today at 2 p.m. with the last practice held the week of the program. Practices are few and far between. However, if girls miss out on today's practice, Wade said there are at least four more they can attend.
The last practice will be held on July 4, the week of the program, with Lynn Robinson from Saraland as this year's choreographer.
During orientation, the girls fill out paperwork and are told about the costuming they need, as well as practice schedules and general information.
Wade said that 10 girls participated last year and in some years they have had as many as 20 girls come out to compete. For 25 years the County JM program has been in effect, and many girls in the county have won the competition, Wade said.
Typically, the numbers of girls who enter are based on the first practice orientation. Project coordinators are in high hopes that in the midst of this year's cancellation, girls will still come out and participate. Any amount of money applied to tuition is a valuable asset for a solid college education.
Miller said that they are still looking for local and corporate sponsorships, and anyone interested in volunteering can contact Miller at 867-2142 or Wade at 867-7615.
The county program will be held July 9 at Jefferson Davis Community College. Emcee will be Drexel Gilbert of WPMI 15 News. Miller said that in the past, more than $100,000 in cash tuition scholarships have been awarded. The 2006 Escambia County Junior Miss will travel to Montgomery Feb. 17 and 18 to participate in the Alabama Junior Miss State program.