Like the princesses they are



Saturday, March 14, was a special day for 26 sweet Blount County princesses.As the state was just beginning to deal with its first cases of COVID-19 and the ensuing chaos, these special needs princesses took the stage in the Miss North Central Alabama Pageant held at J.B. Pennington High School.

The special princesses get to have the whole pageant experience in their own division without the stress of being judged. They receive a crown and sash that every queen deserves.

The normal process of paying the entry fee, finding a dress, and walking on stage in front of judges can be a lot for a girl with special needs. And that’s where the Miss North Central Alabama Pageant comes in.They assist these young ladies to become the princesses they are.

In the Special Princesses’ division, there is no fee and the pageant has its own dress closet for the princesses. Timeless Impressions photographer Brandi Nunnelly provides pictures for this division at no charge.

According to pageant co-founder and organizer Sandra Watson, “The Special Princesses’ division is so every little girl can be in a pageant no matter their ability or disability.”

In the first year, seven special princesses entered. In year two, there were 25. This year, with the uncertainty surrounding the health of the nation and state, several were unable to participate, but they still had 26 there to walk across the stage.

This year’s pageant featured a total of 150 contestants. The pageant gives two $500 cash scholarships, one in the 16- to 18-year-old division and the other in the 19-and-up division. The pageant imposes no age limit on contestants.

The Miss North Central Alabama Pageant was started in 2016 by Lori Bush and Watson as a fundraiser for their self-contained high school special education classroom at the Blount County Learning Center. The proceeds from the first pageant made it possible for them to buy lockers for their students (juniors and seniors up to age 21) in their life skills class.

“We are in a separate school building and didn’t have lockers, but my students wanted lockers like all the other high schoolers,” Bush explained in a blog. “Once we got the lockers, one student said he felt like a real high schooler.”

Bush went on to explain that adding life skills and vocational skills to their curriculum necessitated the need for materials. “We get a small amount of instructional money, but not enough to purchase all the materials we need. With the pageant money we were able to buy supplies for more than 50 work task boxes, subscriptions to News-2-You and Unique Curriculum’s transition band, and an abundance of life skills materials from other special education teachers on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.”

They were also able to take students on a field trip to the Blount County Courthouse where they were able to get official state identification cards and register to vote.

Today, the pageant has been able to expand its fundraising to help many charities throughout Blount County. Since that first year, the pageant’s contestants have collected more than 6,000 pounds of dog food for the Blount County Animal Adoption Center and donated several pageant dresses and crinoline slips to Haley’s Closet.

The contestants have also collected coloring books, crayons, and play dough for the Blount County Children’s Center as well as four other children’s counseling services in Blount and Cullman counties. They’ve collected personal care items for the girls at the Wellborn House King’s Home in Hayden as well.

Last fall, they added a second pageant, the Miss North Central Alabama Covered Bridge pageant. The second annual one is planned for Oct. 3, at J.B. Pennington. Like its sister pageant, it also features a Special Princess division.

This fall, contestants will be collecting and donating new twin bedding, pillows, and blankets to Sleep in Heavenly Peace, an organization that builds beds for children throughout Blount County who don’t have a bed of their own.

The Miss North Central Alabama Pageant and their contestants “have chosen Blount County charities to help with because we try to give back to our community,” Watson said.