When Ashley Wood was crowned Miss South Carolina in 2004, she thought her title came not only with a tiara and a shot at Miss America, but also a $20,000 state scholarship and $5,000 national pageant scholarship.
Ms. Wood said Miss America scholarship winners “encounter one obstacle after another.”
This fall, Ms. Wood entered the Wharton School, the business-studies arm of the University of Pennsylvania. But she has yet to receive any of that scholarship money, having been locked in a dispute with the Miss South Carolina pageant for more than two years.
You are talking about an organization that is promoting itself as the largest scholarship provider for women in the world, Ms. Wood, 26, said of the Miss America Organization. When contestants try to collect their funds, they encounter one obstacle after another.
Ms. Wood said she was told that she would not get the $20,000 for winning the Miss South Carolina pageant in part because her two local pageants had not paid her $950 that she had won from them (Ms. Wood said that after she enrolled in classes, one group reneged on payment and the other dodged her when she tried to collect). In turn, because she did not receive the state money, the national pageant sent her a letter in June saying she was ineligible for the $5,000 from it, even though the deadline to use her national scholarship had not passed. Its like a game of gotcha, she said. What is very clear to me is that the goal is to not give out the scholarships if at all possible.
Ms. Woods is among the most prominent disputes in recent years involving the pageant system, which endures albeit diminished since network television dropped the Miss America Pageant in 2004. But there have long been complaints that the 1,200 local and 52 state pageants run under the aegis of the national pageant often do not distribute scholarships to winners. The contestants say their difficulties collecting their money surprise them, given that the Miss America system promotes itself as a scholarship pageant rather than a beauty pageant, unlike its main rival, the Miss USA contest.
Interviews with contestants across the country describe a Miss America system in which local pageant directors do not return telephone calls and e-mail messages for months, local competitions close down before scholarships are distributed, and the fine print in contracts creates hurdles. Local winners across the country have threatened legal action, and some have taken it.
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