Competing for a cause

On Feb. 22 Denise Hibbard started living the sort of dream coveted by many little girls. She was crowned Miss Champaign-Urbana, the first step on the arduous road to becoming Miss America.

Hibbard, an Illini Media Company employee, junior in Media Studies and student in the Professional Pilot Program, is from Roselle, Ill., and decided to enter the pageant in order to be more involved in the community.

“I’m not doing this just to go for Miss Illinois,” Hibbard said. “I did this to have an impact on the community and having a title makes it easier to actually go out and accomplish that.”

Having a family member affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Hibbard made Alzheimer’s awareness her platform for this year. She is fundraising and donating money to local nursing homes and hoping to help those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

With long blond hair and a bright smile, Hibbard looks natural with her diamond crown. She will have the title for one year, during which she will volunteer and raise money for her platform. At every appearance, she wears her crown, sash and “stylish business clothing.”

She is also helping to raise money in conjunction with many of the sorority philanthropy projects, as well as making appearances at fundraisers and charity events. She hopes to give talks at some of the local schools about Alzheimer’s and serve as a positive role model for the kids.

Having only competed in one pageant previous to this one, Hibbard wasn’t expecting to win the crown for Miss Champaign-Urbana, especially going against 16 other competitors who had more experience.

“I was in shock,” Hibbard said. “I was so excited. I was thinking a thousand things. Where do I go next? What do I do? Do I laugh? Do I cry? Do I smile? Do I wave? I probably looked like such a dork on stage.”

Hibbard is now preparing for the Miss Illinois competition in mid-June. In order to be prepared for all aspects of the competition, Hibbard is incorporating all the pageant elements into her schedule. She is following a strict exercise and diet regimen, something that is very new for her, in order to have good marks in the swimsuit section. This includes giving up chocolate and following advice from a trainer.

Her roommates are quizzing her on current events in order to keep her informed for the on-stage question portion.

She is practicing having a natural walk for the evening gown scoring. She is perfecting the song “Art is Calling for Me (The Prima Donna Song)” from “The Enchantress,” as singing is her talent.

Hibbard is preparing all of these aspects while continuing to raise funds.

“When you get crowned, it’s wonderful but that’s when the work starts,” said Denise’s mother Sylvia Hibbard. “That’s when you start representing your cause and you have to go out and volunteer, which is a much bigger part of the actual pageant than the beauty part is.”

Hibbard is doing her best to balance her crown duties in addition to being a student, also managing her responsibilities in Kappa Alpha Theta.

“I think she can handle it,” said Lindsey Kremer, sophomore in AHS. “She’s involved in a lot but she’s really good at prioritizing her time.”

Seeing what good it has done for her older sister, 16-year-old Danielle Hibbard has been inspired to enter her high school pageant, The Rose Queen. This is the same pageant Denise Hibbard entered and won in 2006.

“I’m entering mostly because (Denise) seems to have good experience with them,” Danielle Hibbard said. “It looks like fun, something I would enjoy for my high school experience.”

Emulating the “four points” to the Miss America Crown — service, scholarship, style and success — Hibbard hopes that people will see Miss America as more than a beauty pageant.

“There is so much more involved,” Hibbard said. “They don’t just pick the prettiest girl.

“They look at how she carries herself, answers the question in an educated manner and can carry on a normal conversation. It’s about going out into the community, not just me looking in the mirror.”

Hibbard said being Miss Champaign-Urbana has taught her a lot about being poised and classy. Hibbard is trying to eliminate “like” from her sentences and is always sitting up straight.

“My biggest thing is being truthful and honest,” Hibbard said. “I would rather go there and do a horrible job but represent myself the way I normally am than be a person that I am not.

“I don’t want to just put on a fake smile and be someone else.”

With this attitude in mind, Hibbard said the on-stage question is the scariest portion of the pageant for her.

If she does not know the answer, instead of making something up, she would just say she didn’t know and look up the answer later. She also doesn’t want to slip up and give the stereotypical “world peace” response.

Besides the on-stage question, the most worrisome part for Hibbard is her fear of tripping.

“I’m terrified about tripping,” Hibbard said. “I am the clumsiest person there is. I would be that one girl who tripped.”