GREENFIELD — The look of shock on Ashley Fritz’s face was clear.
Growing up, the 17-year-old admired the young woman who donned a crown and sash at Hancock County’s annual Riley Festival, smiling for fans and posing for pictures. As she’s grown, Fritz said, she has learned the title comes with important duties and commitments, tasks she’ll take on as this year’s Riley Festival queen.
Fritz was named the 2015 Riley Festival queen at the annual pageant Sunday night, beating out 13 other girls and earning the chance to count herself among the celebration’s long line of monarchs. The festival queen and her court serve as ambassadors of the event, and the queen goes on to represent Hancock County at a state competition.
This year’s Riley Festival, conducted in downtown Greenfield, will be Oct. 1 to 4.
Despite weeks of hard work and preparation — and years of dreaming and hoping before that — Fritz said she was stunned to her name called as queen on stage at Greenfield-Central High School on Sunday night. But she said she’s excited to get started.
“You always look up to the queen and aspire to be the queen,” Fritz said shortly after her coronation. “But now that I’m older, it’s so much more than having a crown on your head. It’s about upholding the legacy of James Whitcomb Riley and giving back to the community in any possible way you can.”
Fritz, a McCordsville native and senior at Mt. Vernon High School, will share her royal responsibilities with the 2015 princess and first runner-up Ellie Roberts and court members Alex Quillin, Lauren Bryant and Miranda Mazza. Mazza was also voted Miss Congeniality by the pageant’s participants.
Participant Caitlyn Grandstaff was given special recognition Sunday for having the best personal-choice outfit. She strutted across the stage in a simple pair of blue jeans and black T-shirt displaying the logo for Rapha House, a nonprofit aimed at ending human trafficking in Cambodia, and carried a backpack made by girls saved through the program. The outfit expressed her desire to assist the group some day.
The Riley Festival queen pageant is a longstanding tradition in Hancock County. The young women chosen to serve on the queen’s court act as ambassadors to the nearly 65,000 people who attend the celebration each year, said Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce and host of Sunday night’s pageant.
The girls who compete are among the best and brightest in Hancock County, and the committee that plans the pageant hopes each girl takes away a higher sense of self-confidence from the event, Livengood told the crowd.
At the Riley Festival, Fritz and her court will visit each event and help wherever needed. When the festivities end, Fritz’s attention will turn to completing her service project, which each candidate is required to outline as part of her application.
She titled her project “Blanket a nursing home with love;” she plans to make fleece blankets and donate them to local nursing homes. She said the idea for the project came to her after visiting relatives in nursing homes; it saddened her to see so many residents without family stopping by to see them. She hopes the donations will foster further projects at area retirement homes, she said.
Fritz’s mother, Sara Fritz, said her daughter has always been dedicated to community service: She regularly volunteers at Riley Hospital for Children and has raised thousands of dollars for Polycystic Kidney Disease research, which Fritz was diagnosed with at a young age but has since overcome.
“I’m just so excited for her,” Sara Fritz said. “She’s an outstanding daughter.”
Pageant contestants began vying for the crown hours before crowds were welcomed into the auditorium. The girls reported to the school much earlier for preliminary judging, where they were required to model their personal choice outfit and evening gown and complete a three-minute interview with the panel of judges.
Contestants walked the stage in evening gowns and outfits they hoped would illustrate their character for the judges Sunday evening. Many slipped on their high school sports uniforms or costumes showing their future career plans. They were asked questions that had them thinking on their feet about how they handle peer pressure, how they set goals for themselves and what celebrities they were most interested in meeting.
The titles were given to the girls who made the biggest impact on the judges during their interactions Sunday afternoon and their performance in the pageant Sunday night. Each winner was handed her sash by last year’s queen, Kylee Stewart.
Stewart took a moment to reflect on her reign before handing over her title. She told the crowd she is thankful for the opportunities the queen pageant opened for her, and she plans to continue serving the community in return.
“I hope these ladies … know they did their personal best,” Stewart said. “Win or lose, they are queens in my eyes.”
Queen: Ashley Fritz
Princess: Ellie Roberts
Court members: Alex Quillin, Lauren Bryant and Miranda Mazza
Best personal choice outfit winner: Caitlyn Grandstaff
Miss Congeniality: Miranda Mazza