42nd annual Miss RHS pageant names winners 

Annie Willis, daughter of Heather Willis and Nick Willis, was crowned Miss RHS 2024 during the 42nd annual Miss RHS Pageant held March 1 at 7 p.m. in the Russellville City Schools Auditorium.

For her talent, Willis performed a clogging routine to “Soul Man” by The Blues Brothers. She is a member of the RHS varsity cheerleaders, a senior editor for the RHS annual staff, mentor for the Golden Tiger BIGS program sponsored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Shoals and was named to the 2023 RHS Homecoming Court. She is also a two-time Miss Watermelon Queen age division winner and “Prettiest Smile” award winner.

“I’m so excited,” Willis said. “It was very unexpected, but it was definitely a dream come true. I have waited for this moment my whole life. I have been over the moon about it ever since I won.”

In addition to being crowned Miss RHS 2024, Willis also won in the categories of Most Photogenic, Best Talent and Best Evening Gown. She also received the Viewer’s Choice award.

The event is the main fundraiser for the annual staff. All money raised goes toward making the price of yearbooks as cost-effective as possible. Eighteen contestants from grades 9-12 took the stage, competing in categories including interview, talent and evening gown.

A winner from each grade was also named for Most Photogenic, chosen from students who opted to participate in that category, and a Viewer’s Choice Award (based on votes the night of the pageant).

OTHER PARTICIPANTS

The pageant also included 18 Little Sisters and 19 Rising Stars. The Little Sisters are Russellville Middle School students who chosen by the contestants to introduce them during the talent competition. The Rising Stars come from Russellville Elementary and West Elementary, and they accompany their contestant onstage during the evening gown revue.

The pageant featured special entertainment from the Addie’s Flip, Tip and Tap Trio, which consists of Tinley Cleveland, Ruby Harbin and Lyza Shaw Herring; and from last year’s Miss RHS 2023, Sarah Morgan. Miss RHS 2022, Madeline Cooper, served as emcee for the event.

Lauren Mae Wallace is in her first year as Miss RHS Pageant director. She said the event is “so much more than just a beauty pageant,” adding that in 1984, “Susie Malone turned the pageant into a scholarship pageant, and our winner receives scholarship money that can help her further her educational career.”

RISING STAR AND LITTLE SISTER FOR MISS RHS 2024

In the pageant, Willis’ Rising Star was Baylor Bradford, daughter of Rhett Bradford and Brittany Bradford. Her Little Sister was Audrey Claire Kiel, daughter of Jamie Kiel and Melissa Kiel. “I have enjoyed working with them,” Willis said. “Baylor has been my Rising Star all four years I’ve participated in Miss RHS, and Audrey has been my Little Sister for two years.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR MISS RHS 2024

After graduation, Willis plans to get a degree from the University of North Alabama, then return to Russellville to teach second grade and perhaps serve as cheer coach. While at UNA, Willis will try out for the cheer team.  “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was little,” Willis explained. “I just think that I could open up so many little kids’ eyes. I love being with them.”

In addition to the recognition and prizes, Willis said she has benefited from participation in the pageant in other ways. “I think I’m a lot more confident now to talk in front of big groups,” she explained. “Being in the pageant has also helped open me up to more things instead of just staying to myself, and the whole week of the pageant is really fun.”

ALTERNATES

Chloe Sheffield, daughter of Chad Sheffield and Karri Cummings, was named first alternate. Her talent was an Acro Jazz dance to “Orange Colored Sky” by Natalie Cole. A senior, she is a member of the RHS varsity cheerleaders, tennis team, National Honor Society, Future Teachers of Alabama and Franklin County Junior Leadership.

Stella Hill, daughter of Eric Hill and Tara Hill, was named second alternate. Her talent was a lyrical dance to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. A senior, she serves as president of Future Health Professionals (HOSA), is president of Family Career and Community Leaders of America and is a member of the RHS varsity cheerleaders. She serves as a medical intern at Russellville Hospital and Burns Nursing Home. She is the current Franklin County winner in the Distinguished Young Women program.

Caylin Pinkard, daughter of Josh Pinkard and Tabetha Pinkard, was named third alternate. Her talent was an Acro Jazz dance to “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson. A senior, she serves as co-captain of the RHS varsity cheerleaders and is an ambassador for RHS Career and Technical Education. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Future Teachers of America and Christian Students United.

GRADE REPRESENTATIVES

Ella Colagross, daughter of John Colagross and Brea Colagross, was named eleventh grade representative. Her talent was a tap dance to “Play that Funky Music” by Wild Cherry. She is president of the Technology Students Association, vice-president of Future Business Leaders of America, class representative for Christian Students United and a representative for the RHS Student Council. She also serves on the Franklin County Junior Leadership team.

Lily Cate Pace, daughter of Brian and Jennifer Pace and Jenny and Jeremy Reed, was named one of two tenth grade representatives. Her talent was a vocal performance of “That’s Life” as sung in the TV show “Smash.” Pace is a member of the RHS varsity cheerleaders, varsity tennis team, RHS Peer Helpers and serves as an officer for Christian Students United. She also serves in the student praise band at Tharptown Baptist Church.

Ellie Willis, daughter of Nick Willis and Heather Wills (and sister of the new Miss RHS, Annie Willis), was also named a tenth-grade representative. Her talent was clogging to “Conga” by Miami Sound Machine and Gloria Estefan.

She is a member of Christian Students United, Future Health Professionals (HOSA), is an underclassman editor for the RHS annual Staff and is captain of the RHS junior varsity cheerleading squad, where she additionally serves as chaplain and was named an All-American cheerleader. She was previously named Miss Watermelon Queen for her age division and won awards for “Prettiest Smile” and “Prettiest Dress.”

Ticelee Gholston, daughter of Jay Gholston and Brandi Gholston, was named ninth grade representative. Her talent was a Jazz Hip-hop dance to “1, 2 Step” by Ciara. She is a member of the National Junior Honor Society, the RHS junior varsity cheerleading squad, the RHS softball team, track team and the Student Booster Club.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION

Cindy Coan, a lifelong resident of Franklin County, received the Lifetime Golden Crown award. Coan served as the Miss RHS pageant director from 2017-2023, when she relinquished her director duties after accepting the position of RCS Child Nutrition program director.

“I’m honored to be among a group of women who built the program up to be something meaningful for young women in RCS, including Mrs. Lela Ray, Mrs. Susie Malone and Dr. AnnaKay Holland. I’m proud to see the torch being passed to the next director, Lauren Mae Wallace, and coordinator, Kellie Singleton, who are both pageant alumni and want to see the program continue and grow. I leave the pageant in capable hands.”

Dr. Heath Grimes, superintendent of Russellville City Schools, was named the 2024 Honorary RHS Annual Staff Member.

PAGEANT STAFF

Lauren Mae Wallace served as pageant director and stage manager. Kellie Singleton served as pageant coordinator and program designer and editor. Hannah Bendall was the assistant coordinator and backstage manager.

Ava Oliver was the choreographer. Mandy Barksdale was the auditor. Ralph Parrish, of Graph-X Designs, was the T-shirt designer. Jacey Moore and Peyton Parrish were the social media managers.

HISTORY  

During the 1981-1982 school year, Stan McCarver was the Tiger Track and Tiger Pause sponsor, and Lela Ray was the Drama and Art teacher. Several of Ray’s art students were on McCarver’s staff, and they often collaborated on student-centered projects. 

During the spring of 1982, with times changing and prices increasing for the publication of both the yearbook and the newspaper, McCarver realized the Annual Staff needed a way to offset the increasing costs.

At the time, the Annual Staff sponsored the Miss RHS contest where the title of Miss RHS and the representatives for each grade were determined based on who was able to turn in the most votes (money), but when he and Ray began discussing ways to increase the amount of money the fundraiser brought in, the idea of a pageant was brought up.

With Ray’s background in various pageants (Miss Decatur High) and her experience judging pageants on many different levels throughout the state, they decided to turn the Miss RHS contest into the Miss RHS Pageant. All participants would be judged on their interview skills, talent, poise, stage presence and GPA, by an odd number of individuals chosen from a list of qualified judges, with auditors selected to tally the ballots. 

Planning got underway, and the first Miss RHS Pageant was held in the spring of 1983. That first production was two nights, with the first night featuring the talent presentations and the second night featuring the main production, sportswear, evening wear and winners of the talent competition presenting their talents. This format was patterned after the Miss Alabama program. 

In 1983, Susie Hovater Malone succeeded McCarver as sponsor of the Annual Staff and added her pageant expertise to the event. The same format of the pageant continued with Malone adding in several changes, such as holding the pageant on one night; adding an opening number; increasing the size of the Miss RHS Court to two grade representatives per grade, with first, second and third alternates selected from the senior class; adding a photogenic competition; and adding awards for Highest GPA and Overall “A” Average so more contestants could be recognized.

Malone was also responsible for turning the pageant into a scholarship program in 1984. Working with Northwest -Shoals Community College, she secured a full President’s Scholarship to NWSCC for the senior contestant that won the Miss RHS crown.

This scholarship was awarded for 20 years until the college discontinued it. At that time, Malone started the Miss RHS Alumni $500 Cash Scholarship. When there weren’t enough funds from Miss RHS alumni to equal the full $500, the RHS Annual Staff made sure the $500 cash scholarship was still given each year. 

Malone sponsored the Tiger Track Yearbook, The Tiger Pause newspaper and coordinated and directed the Miss RHS Pageant for 33 years until her retirement in 2016. 

Beginning in 2017, the Miss RHS torch was passed to Cindy Coan and AnnaKay Holland, with Dr. Holland succeeding Malone as Annual Staff sponsor and Miss RHS Coordinator and Coan assuming the role of Miss RHS Pageant Director.

Holland and Coan added an updated logo to the pageant, added the Little Sisters and Rising Stars to create interest and excitement in the pageant for girls of all ages, and added the theme, “Women in Pursuit of Excellence.” 

PAST MISS RHS WINNERS 

  • 1983, Elizabeth Ragsdale 
  • 1984, Dana Hester 
  • 1985, Rhonda Holcomb 
  • 1986, Kim Stanley 
  • 1987, Denise Smith 
  • 1988, Kelly McCullough 
  • 1989, Traci Simpson 
  • 1990, Susan Hammack 
  • 1991, Amanda Ray 
  • 1992, Ann Gilliland 
  • 1993, Dena Hovater 
  • 1994, Dedra Vernon 
  • 1995, Jenny Vickery 
  • 1996, Loretta Trapp 
  • 1997, Olivia Wooten 
  • 1998, Jessica Hillman 
  • 1999, Brooke Colglazier 
  • 2000, Stephanie Terry 
  • 2001, Bonnie Clement 
  • 2002, Heather Crowder 
  • 2003, Mallory Wooten 
  • 2004, Brandi Poss 
  • 2005, Brittany James 
  • 2006, Kelli Wells 
  • 2007, Sarah Nichols 
  • 2008, Anne-Marie Hall 
  • 2009, Loren Sorrells 
  • 2010, Paige Bowen 
  • 2011, Anna-Claire Burgess 
  • 2012, Anna Kathryn Alford 
  • 2013, Erin Masterson 
  • 2014, Cheyenne Smith 
  • 2015, Hannah Prince 
  • 2016, Jessica McSpadden 
  • 2017, Hailey Peters 
  • 2018, Ellie Kerby 
  • 2019, Elizabeth Pierce 
  • 2020, Sydney Medley 
  • 2021, Lauren Mae Sturdivant 
  • 2022, Madeline Cooper 
  • 2023, Sarah Morgan

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