Among the many 2020 event casualties due to Covid-19 was the Miss America competition, which was forced to cancel its staple event last year over safety concerns. But the organization, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2021, is preparing for a full return of its in-person competition this December.
During an anniversary celebration this week, the Miss America Organization announced that its next competition will be held at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., on Dec. 16, with a full week of activities leading up to the main event. The venue has signed a deal to host the event for the next three years.
"For 100 years, Miss America has been an icon, a champion for social causes and one of the leading providers of scholarships to women in the country", said Shantel Krebs, board chair and interim president and CEO of the Miss America Organization. "We are thrilled to have Mohegan Sun join us in this mission. Their dedication to excellence and state-of-the-art facilities make them the ideal partner as we enter into our second century of service to America's outstanding young women."
According to John Washko, vice president of expo and convention sales for the Mohegan Sun, up to 5,000 people are expected to attend the December competition, and roughly 1,000 room nights are anticipated at the hotel. Due to the changing nature of Covid-19, safety protocols will be announced closer to the competition. Details on the venue's current health and safety measures can be found on its website.
"We have slowly made our way back from the pandemic to right now, where we are operating at full capacity for concerts and events. But this is a very fluid situation, so we will continue to monitor numbers and continue to use the direction and guidance of the Mohegan Tribal Health Department," said Washko. "We look at what's happening and are having calls with the health department on a daily basis. We are really focused on how to maintain safety for our team members and for our guests — and that will be the case in December."
A Statewide Affair
This week's anniversary celebration included a Labor Day parade, a formal gala and a proclamation from Gov. Ned Lamont declaring Sept. 8 as Miss America Day in Connecticut, which Washko says could help bring greater awareness to the Miss American Organization as well as bolster the state's reputation and help it attract high-caliber talent.
"We don't want this to just be a Mohegan Sun event. We want this to be a state of Connecticut event," he said. "This is an amazing state that doesn't have a tremendous national identity. It is sort of a drive-through state in a lot of people's eyes. We look at this as being an opportunity for the state to really take pride in and support the Miss America Organization. And these are all great applicants right here; they have amazing resumes and have now seen the state — what a ripe opportunity to bring in some of these talented individuals to our organizations."
A recurring theme of the week was how much the competition has changed over the past 100 years, and the importance of its continued evolution in the years ahead. What started as a swimsuit competition in 1921 in Atlantic City has since developed into a full-fledged competition that no longer judges candidates based on physical appearance. In fact, the swimsuit portion was eliminated in 2018 and winners are now selected based on interviews, talent and social impact.
According to Krebs, the Miss America competition is primarily focused on providing scholarships and opportunities to women. More than $5 million is awarded in scholarships each year. Krebs, who was Miss South Dakota in 1997, is a prime example as she was able to pay for college using the funds she received through the competition.
"It is not the pageantry that everybody thinks it is. It is, by far, the other and complete opposite," she said, emphasizing the organization's commitment to helping women succeed in whatever career they choose. "It's a competition and we call them candidates because it's like you're competing for a job… This is a launching pad into a career and gives you strength and confidence about public speaking and interview skills to set you up for career success. But it's also focused on education success, meaning you're going to walk away from college debt free."