SEASIDE - When eight young women stride the runway in casual wear, evening dresses and swimsuits for the Miss Clatsop County Program Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26, they aren't just there to be beautiful.

"This is so not that stereotypical stigmatized beauty pageant," co-director Ronda Marlega said. "Our girls are all stunning, but they're also well-rounded community participants."

One girl who competed for three years had difficulty at first, Marlega said. "She didn't even want to wear a swimsuit," she said. Given that the pageant usually draws about 1,000 people, this is not hard to understand. But the young woman got involved in more activities and took an interest in her platform. Contestants pick an issue and learn all they can for an interview that is 40 percent of their score.

Briita Blair, Miss North Coast 2004When Marlega saw her a few years later, "I hardly recognized the woman that she'd grown up to be," she said. She described a lady who radiated incredible confidence, had good public speaking skills and became an advocate for her issue.

"Some of the most amazing successes of this program are the girls that we actually never crown," Marlega said.

Girls are also asked questions on current events, which they prepare for by cutting out newspaper articles for a binder they carry everywhere, Marlega said. "They learn right now the importance of being community-minded and globally oriented," she said.

From left, Desiree Phillips, Shasia Holthusen, Coreene Tussing and Tori Torres are leaning about poise and community involvement as contestants in the Miss Outstanding Teen Clatsop County program. Photo courtesy Cannon Beach Gazette.Four teenagers are also in the running for Miss Outstanding Teen. "It's prep school for Miss contestants," Marlega said. "We have strong candidates in both our Miss and our Outstanding Teen." Candidates have to be confident, well-spoken, responsible and willing to commit.

"You need to know your material and you need to speak well," said Marlega, although she admitted that "a nice smile doesn't hurt."

At 5:30 p.m. Friday, each girl gives a two-minute presentation on her platform, Marlega said. A dinner, silent auction and fashion auction accompany that.

Vying for the title of Miss Clatsop County are, from left, Jennifer Gibson, Kira Haukikenziro, Kaya McGrath, Tarah Wesely, Kristina Johnson, Kayla Tikkala, Jamie Phillips and Adrian Stanley. Photo courtesy Cannon Beach Gazette.Saturday morning is the big interview, done in front of a panel of judges. "The questions range from world issues to local politics," Marlega said. The girls are also asked about themselves and their platforms, she said. When the main event arrives at 7 p.m., the girls will start in casual wear for their on-stage question, which Marlega thinks is the most nerve-wracking part. They perform their talents, which range from singing to hip hop dance, then change into swimsuits for the "fitness and lifestyle" portion.

Marlega said the focus is moving from how good the girls look in swimsuits to whether they are well-toned. "Once you've been on stage in a swimsuit and high heels, doesn't everything seem so much easier?" she laughed.

The adorable members of the Miss Clatsop County Junior Court hold flowers and awards for the contestants as they await the announcement of the winner. First row, from left: Tyla Little, Lillian Williams and Julia Strecker. Second row: Katelynn Sparks, Annaka Garhofer, Dawson Whiteside, Morgan Matthews and Amanda Baird. Third row: Hannah Bacon, Lakyn Williams, Hannah Jo Penuel, Ariana Watson, Bailey McKey and Brianna Marsch.Contestant Kira Haukikenziro said the girls are literally glued into their swimsuits. This keeps the fabric from bunching up, she said.

The pageant finishes with evening wear, which is one of the contestants' favorite parts. Tarah Wesely said the best part of the preparations has been trying on "nine bajillion dresses" in order to pick the one that will make her look most beautiful.

Preparation for the big day ranges from learning about current events and the platform to working on poise and ladylike behavior, Marlega said. For instance, whenever she meets with the girls, she asks them to sit in a very ladylike fashion.

Contestant Kristina Johnson said the girls have practiced walking and doing turns. "You kind of feel dumb because you've walked all your life and now you're practicing how to walk," she said.

Platforms include abstinence, teen depression awareness and asthma awareness, and generally have personal meaning for the women. For instance, Johnson wants children and parents to know more about asthma so they won't be falsely diagnosed with a heart condition, as she was in high school.

Each participant receives a minimum of $500 for school, which is donated by local businesses, Marlega said. The program, now that local businesses understand it helps girls become more accomplished, is funded by Weyerhaeuser, Lazerquick, Astoria Builders Supply, Kiwanis, Big River Excavating, Seaside Factory Outlet, Leinassar & Klemp, Lektro, Coaster Construction, Maltman Construction and Bergerson.

Marlega said it is hard to see only one contestant get chosen. "It's also hard to watch a girl who has given everything she has and who really wants the crown to not get it. But after the initial disappointment, they realize what they did get," she said. Girls gain poise and confidence in public speaking and make friends with each other, she said.

"It's not at all like the movies," contestant Kaya McGrath said. "There's no catfights."

"These girls go back into their communities and their schools, they're mentors for their peers, they're advocates for their platforms and they will be community leaders," Marlega said. "It's just an amazing growth opportunity for these women ... These girls get up on stage in front of a thousand people and sing and dance and talk about their platform."

Jennifer GibsonKira HaukikenziroKristina JohnsonKaya McGrath

Jamie PhillipsAdrian StanleyKayla TikkalaTarah WeselyShasia HolthusenDesiree PhillipsTori TorresCoreene Tussing