When Ashlee Hafey found out she was a finalist to be Colorado's Home-coming Queen, the news came with mixed feelings. She would get to travel to Denver, spend a couple days at the Radisson Hotel, meet other homecoming queens from across the state, and get a chance to win a cash scholarship and a prestigious award.
But she would have to miss her senior prom and a track meet to do it.
The Colorado Homecoming Queen competition is part of a national program called America's Homecoming Queen, in which homecoming queens from across the country compete for state crowns, and then move on to a national selection.
Since the program started in 1981, it has awarded more than $400,000 in scholarships. Awards and travel expenses in excess of $1 million also have been dispersed.
The event's organizers say the competition isn't a beauty pageant. It's missing some of the usual pageant trappings, such as a talent competition and swimsuit modeling.
Finalists will compete in personal interviews and a prom gown competition only, according to organizers.
"We are looking for the all American girl who wants a career."
Of all the Colorado girls who sent in their applications, only 10 percent were selected for the 24th Annual Homecoming Queen selection.
May 1 is the first day of the finals for the Colorado competition. It's also prom night at Moffat County High School. "At first I was bummed because I wanted to go and see all my friends dressed up," Hafey said. "But I went last year, and when I was a freshman."
She said it took her two weeks to decide whether to compete. In the end, the allure of something new and a chance at scholarship money weighed in favor of the pageant.
She made the decision, "just because it's a different opportunity and I've never done anything like it."
Hafey has been accepted to go to college at Mesa State, where she'll enroll in the pre-nursing program.
Her mother, Dorie, said the chance at a scholarship was a deciding factor. "That's what it boiled down to -- it's a possible scholarship," Dorie said. "It's disappointing because it's her senior prom, but she's building on her future, so she's trying to put it all in perspective."
Dorie said she was impressed at the maturity Ashlee showed in making the decision. Her daughter knew she was shouldering the burden of financing college, and Ashlee thought a scholarship could help out the family.
"You're always helping us, mom," Ashlee told her. Although her high school career isn't quite over, the Moffat County senior already is looking beyond her local school days and life as an adult.
She said some of her peers wish high school was eternal. Adults have reminded her that she'll look back on them as the best days of her life.
"I don't want to say I don't like high school," Ashlee said. "But I'm ready to go on and meet new people and have a different atmosphere. I'm excited to start my life after high school."
At one point, she considered graduating early. Academically, it would have been a breeze. Ashlee already has 39 college credits in addition to her graduation requirements. A dual enrollment program gave her the opportunity to take classes through Colorado Northwestern Community College. She took college credit classes at MCHS, and she took two college courses each summer for the last two years.
"I'd categorize her as an overachiever," Dorie said. "I don't have to motivate her at all. She's a self-starter."
The decision not to graduate early was also a tough one. But the three-sport student athlete was reluctant to give up her last year of volleyball, basketball and track. As high school draws to a close, Ashlee has a good idea of what she wants from her adult life. She plans to start with a nursing degree.
"I want to be a nurse, but in anything I do, I want to be as successful as I can. I want to have a happy life. I want to get married and have kids," Ashlee said.
Ashlee is trying to keep the competition in perspective. "I'm not getting my hopes up because I know there will be a lot of girls there and I've never done anything like this."
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org