Wantagh High School senior Kayla Knight was named Miss Wantagh 2014 at the close of the Fourth of July parade last Friday at Wantagh Elementary School.
“I am extremely honored that the judges picked me to represent the town,” said Knight, adding that she would use her new title to help the elderly. “I want to have other students at the high school and middle school join me each month at the Berkshire Nursing Home in Babylon. We need to let elderly people know they are not forgotten.”
Additionally, Knight said, she would work with her court of runners-up to help them complete community service projects as well. Kaitlyn von Runnen was first runner-up, Christine Parola was second runner-up, and Shayna Held and Nikoleta Mountanos shared the third runner-up position.
“It’s a very difficult decision,” pageant Director Ella Stevens said. “Each girl is special. Each brings to the table their own unique talents and beauty.”
This year there were eight semifinalists. The pageant was held on July 2 at Wantagh High School, before a panel of eight judges. “This pageant is not a beauty pageant,” Stevens explained to the judges. Instead it highlights the contestants’ academic excellence and community service. There is no bathing suit competition, but each contestant did glide down the aisle of the Wantagh High auditorium in a beautiful gown.
The contestants spoke about their achievements and aspirations. Amanda Caso mentioned her battle with diabetes, and Held talked about her passion to save the environment.
Nyatasha Jackowicz spoke about the meaning of strength and her position as the first girl on the high school’s varsity wrestling team. Mountanos detailed her devotion to her faith and her involvement in GOYA, a youth group at the Greek Orthodox Church she attends.
Tylar Benedetto teaches Sunday school, helps run food drives for the less fortunate and has a passion for musical theater. Christine Parola told the judges about her love for children and teaching. Von Runnen wowed the judges with a clever baseball metaphor that described her challenges and goals.
And then there was Knight, who talked about her participation in Hofstra University’s Shakespeare Festival and her hope to pursue a career in criminal law.
The pageant is a longtime Wantagh tradition, dating back to 1956, when Lynn Clayton was named the first Miss Wantagh. Since then, the winner has been a community ambassador, pursuing the betterment of Wantagh.
“It’s not uncommon to find that past Miss Wantagh participants have continued giving back to their community,” Stevens said. “These girls show leadership qualities.”