The Daily Gamecock

First-ever Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant celebrates positives of old age

Junior Division contestant Sheila Ackridge dances in the talent portion of the 2021 Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant.
Junior Division contestant Sheila Ackridge dances in the talent portion of the 2021 Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant.

The first Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant, an event dedicated to uplifting older folks and celebrating the positive aspects of aging, commenced yesterday at the Dutch Square Mall to an audience of over 100 people.

The pageant was organized by Kim Mitchell, the Columbia Parks and Recreation special events and senior coordinator. Competing were 13 contestants from around the Columbia area, each in the range of 50 to over 70 years old, with 12 competing for the first time ever in a pageant.

Her aim in organizing the pageant was to show people that growing old does not have to be limiting. 

"[The event wanted] to show that seniors, because they’re older, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have any value in society. They do have value, and they have a lot of wisdom," Mitchell said. 

Elite Division competitor and self-proclaimed athlete Yvette McKenzie said she lives an active life full of variety even at her older age.

“We’re growing bold, not old,” McKenzie said, referencing the statement for this year's National Senior Games Association, "Growing bolder."

The three judges of the 2021 Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant sit in the back and tally points for each competitor based on stage presence, personality and articulation, among other things. 

The event began with personal introductions and a single question Q&A, both graded by the three judges on stage presence, personality and articulation. After that came the talent portion, with contestants reading written poetry aloud, while others sang or danced interpretively. The final competitive element was a glam runway walk and final Q&A. 

The pageant competition segments called for a costume change from each contestant regularly, and sandwiched during these transitional times were performances by local community groups, including singing by the Greenview Community Choir and dancing by the Greenview Line Dancers.

The competitors had to prepare for each segment prior to the pageant, including practicing public speaking skills, matching outfits and jewelry and choosing which talent to show off for the competition.

"I'm an athlete normally, and this is totally out of my element," McKenzie said. "But this was a lot of work ... I equated it to a sport. I did the same preparation that I do with my sport to get myself ready."

The winner of each division was announced after the points marked by the judges were tabulated. A Best Talent and People's Choice Award were also given based on the judges' favorite talent performance and the contestant with the most votes on social media, respectively.

The winner of the 2021 Ms. Senior Recreation Pageant was Junior Elite Division competitor Sheila Ackridge. She said she was proud to have won, even though she was surprised to clinch the top award.

"I'm feeling excited; elated. I'm just in awe," Ackridge said. “I really, truly did not expect to win.”

Her advice to all those who are looking to do something new, like the senior pageant was for her, is to just do it, no matter one's age.

“Go for it. You’re never too old," Ackridge said. "You’re never, ever too old to step out of the box; try something different, even if it’s for the first time. Do it.”

Mitchell said the contestants were already asking about another pageant next year, which she is fully in support of, but said her biggest challenge for the next event would be topping this year's pageant.