GREENFIELD — As Cassondra Jones stepped to the podium to accept her sash, she was already wiping her eyes.
She had prepared for the interview, she’d practiced walking in her heels; but nothing prepared her for the jolt of realizing it was her name read as the 2017 Hancock County 4-H Fair Queen.
Jones, 17, a senior at Eastern Hancock High School, competed for the chance to serve as the fair’s ambassador for the first time last weekend, but family members say she’s been getting read to represent Hancock County well all her life, participating in 4-H, dance and other activities while keeping up her grades.
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More than 200 people crowded Trinity Park United Methodist Church on Saturday to watch the pageant unfold, led by master of ceremonies, Miss Indiana State Fair 2016 Tate Fritchley.
“I’m just so, so shocked,” said Jones, who took time after the pageant to pose with Miss Congeniality, Gracie Johnson, her princess, Peyton West, and her court, Madison Kindred, Skylar Knapp and Anne McCain.
Her family members watching in the front row were less surprised and more elated, whooping and cheering as she made her way across the stage to accept the crown.
Dancing since she was 3 years old with Wilkerson Dance Studio gave Jones poise and graceful movement, and years of preparing fair projects with the Blue River Guys and Gals 4-H club gave her confidence, said her mother, Brigette Cook Jones.
And being named fair royalty is somewhat of a family tradition — Jones’ mother was the first runner-up in 1985, and her aunt served as the fair queen in 1987, Cook Jones said.
Jones will represent Hancock County at the Indiana State Fair Queen Pageant, slated for January 2018.
Saturday’s event drew both friends and family members of contestants, as well as well-wishers involved in the county 4-H program.
Peggy Couch of Greenfield attended to cheer on all the contestants, she said. Her family has been active in the organization for some 16 years and gives out a scholarship during every year’s fair, she said.
Some audience members were more nervous than the girls they were rooting for.
Bonnie Guzman of Greenfield clutched her pageant program as she watched her niece, longtime 4-H’er Peyton West, compete.
“Peyton’s the reason we go to the fair,” Guzman said.
All of the 18 queen contestants were 4-H’ers, many having completed 10 years in the local youth development organization, spending years showing livestock and completing other projects from photography to foods.
The contestants began gearing up for the pageant in May, when organizers conducted an application workshop complete with tips on graceful modeling and the interview with the judges.
The young women arrived to the church at 11 a.m. Saturday, where a judging panel comprising several women from 4-H programs in nearby Indiana counties conducted interviews with the hopefuls. They received points for both their personality and composure during the three-minute interview and their 4-H achievements throughout the years.
At the start of the pageant, the contestants introduced themselves to the crowd while wearing jeans and fair T-shirts; they faced two more changes to grace the stage in professional wear and formal wear.
Megan Addison, who helped organize the contest, said it was a pleasure to watch the girls spend time together throughout the process, get to know each other and become friends.
They took time away from competing to remember what the pageant is all about — having fun with new friends.
They had cake and sang to court member Madison Kindred, who celebrated her birthday Saturday.
All of the members of the court received awards. The queen received $500, a sash and tiara, a bouquet and a luggage set; as princess, West received $200, a bouquet and sash; and the three members of the court received $100 each, a bouquet and sash.
Johnson, named Miss Congeniality by her fellow competitors, received a plaque donated by the family of the first fair queen, crowned in 1958, Delores Sparks Kessler; a scholarship presented by Covance employee Christa Justus in memory of Pam Gunn, a former member of the pageant committee; and a bouquet and sash.
When the fair kicks off June 23, Jones and her court will appear at a number of fair events, including livestock contests to pass out ribbons and congratulations to the winner.
Jones looks forward to serving as queen — an experience she insists isn’t all about her.
“I can’t wait to meet the people of Hancock County and get to know their stories,” she said.
Queen: Cassondra Jones
Princess: Peyton West
Court: Madison Kindred, Skylar Knapp and Anne McCain
Miss Congeniality: Gracie Johnson
What: Hancock County 4-H Fair
When: Now through Friday, June 30
Where: Hancock County Fairgrounds, 620 Apple St., Greenfield
Why: The culmination of a year of efforts by local 4-H’ers throughout the county, the 4-H Fair judges everything from cattle to cupcakes. Carnival rides, a car show and more will be available throughout fair week.