This year's field of Miss Kansas contestants don't fit the pageant mold.

Throughout the week, a group of 25 women will be referred to collectively as contestants, young ladies, the Misses (to differentiate them from the teen contestants) or the girls. It may be tempting to think of them as a group, rather than as a group of individuals.

As a group, the Miss Kansas contestants are young, attractive, able to perform a talent, place some importance on fitness (or maybe they're blessed with youth and good genes), have stated goals for the future, and are involved with some important societal issue in the present.

As individuals, they bring a variety of backgrounds, interests, accomplishments and attitudes to the pageant.

Theresa Vail, who claims Drum, N.Y., as her hometown, but graduated from Leavenworth High School and is a student at Kansas State University, is also a soldier.

"As I was growing up, I never fit in with the crowd," she wrote in a platform statement. "Cheerleading didn't interest me, but sports did. I finally found my home when I joined the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Program) rifle team. I quickly became the number one shot."

She joined the Kansas Army National Guard at the age of 17.

She claims to feel the most confidence in activities that attract more males than females — camping, hunting, fishing and boxing. She's at home in fatigues and camouflage, as well as the evening gowns and rhinestones that make up a pageant wardrobe.

Vail is working to develop a brand called Miss Outdoor Girl to help girls understand they can still be beautiful and feminine while participating in outdoor activities. She plans to offer camps for teens and sell clothing with the Miss Outdoor Girl brand.

She is a section leader for the U.S. Army National Guard Medical Detachment, an expert marksman and Soldier of the Month.

The soldier is also a 4.0 Chinese major at KSU with the goal of becoming a dentist for the Army.

Mai-Thy Ta, Augusta, is a "pageant girl," having competed in the National American Miss and Miss Kansas U.S.A. systems. With a goal to become a pediatrician, she lettered in four high school sports, is a musician, an honor student, and the daughter of Vietnam War survivors.

Hannah Fox, Overland Park, has earned awards for horse showing and figure skating and is a published author of children's books.

Giovanna Baca, Liberal, is Dorothy for the Seward County Historical Society and she's a trainer for other Dorothy characters at Dorothy's House and the Land of Oz museums.

Jackie Newland, Neodesha, who wants to be a professional singer, dancer and actor, was the Star Farmer for her high school FFA chapter and is a certified scuba diver.

Erica Mahan, Neosho Falls, developed a computer game and has worked undercover for the Topeka Police Department. She's a graduate of Pratt Community College nursing program and works as a traveling nurse.

Hannah Langley, Winfield, showed 4-H pigs. She also performed at the 2009 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Another 4-H show veteran is Danielle Hill, a fourth-generation member whose great-grandfather founded the first Corn Club that was a forerunner of the 4-H program. She claims a grand champion steer at the Beef Expo as one of her accomplishments.

Chelsea Chilcott, Derby, whose grandparents, Wes and the late Lois Belote, were Pratt residents for many years, is listed in the top 25 "weirdest beauty pageant talents" on She and her "friends" will perform a ventriloquist routine Thursday night.

Ashley Ulmer, Whitewater, won two chili cook-offs and on her 21st birthday, went skydiving and got a motorcycle license. As an intern at KAKE-TV, she interviewed Miss America Laura Kaeppeler.

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