It’s hard to talk about the Shippensburg Community Fair Queen and Little Miss pageants without also talking about CJ Ezell, who has worked tirelessly for more than a decade to coordinate two of the fair’s most popular events.
But this year marks the end of an era in pageant history as Ezell announced this week her decision to retire as fair queen committee chair.
“I’ve been thinking about it for the past year,” said Ezell, who is looking forward to spending more time with her family.
Ezell, of Shippensburg, started helping with the pageants 14 years ago when her daughter, Paige, was a contestant in the Little Miss contest. Prior pageant experience made it easy to step into her role as a contest volunteer, and she took over as committee chair two years later.
Over the years, Ezell has overseen several key changes that have had a positive impact on the pageants.
“We’ve added a personal interview for the queen candidates with the judges,” she said. “I think it improved the competition because the judges get that one-on-one time with the girls and lets them get to know them better as people.
“We also implemented an essay portion. They have to submit an essay that is judged about what the fair means to the community.”
In addition, the first runners-up, who join the Fair Queen and Little Miss at fair events, receive the titles of Fair Sweetheart and Little Miss Princess.
“We changed the titles for the first runners-up,” Ezell said. “If they are at the fair and expected to do things like hand out ribbons, they need a proper title.”
One thing hasn’t changed, however. Ezell’s main goals have always been to make the pageants fun for the contestants and to provide an experience they can learn from.
“The numbers (of contestants) have consistently been getting lower,” she said. “It seems like the younger generation is fearful of public speaking. But this is a good experience. We’ve had girls who weren’t sure they wanted to do it, but then come back to do it again the next year. And they’ve been much more confident.
“We want every girl to have fun, to use it as a learning experience, regardless of the outcome. We want to make it a good memory for them.”
Although the number of contestants has dwindled, Ezell said the number of spectators is pretty consistent.
“It’s the biggest event next to the tractor pull,” she said. “An average of about 2,500 people attend each year, less if it’s rainy, but since I’ve been involved, we’ve only had one year that it’s rained.”
Ezell, who has offered to help the next committee chair transition into the role, said she hopes the pageants expand in the future.
“I’m one of those people who thinks there’s always a way to do something better, so there is definitely room for growth,” she said.
For now, she is still busy helping this year’s Fair Queen and Little Miss as they fulfill their responsibilities, which include appearances at local parades and fairs, and competition at the state pageant in Hershey, as well as jobs like handing out ribbons and greeting people at this year’s fair.
“We also want to make sure the girls go around and get to know the fair board members and the people working in the stands,” Ezell said. “I think it’s important that the girls thank them and let them know their donations are appreciated.”
And planning for next year’s contests has already begun.
“It’s a huge time commitment,” she said of organizing the contests. “It’s year-round. At this time, we’re thinking of a theme for next year, talking to girls about entering next year, and thinking of things going on throughout the fair that we don’t have the girls going to yet.”