SEBRING - A little extra practice at home may not have been the key to Maci Leaphart winning the Little Miss Highlands County Pageant, but undoubtedly it didn't hurt.
"It was surprising," Maci, 11, said of being crowned Little Miss Highlands for 2014.
Maci, a fifth-grade student at Sun N' Lake Elementary sponsored by Cannon's Pest Control, said she was a little less nervous after participating in the event last year. She enjoys reading at school and would like to become a cake designer, she said.
Stacy Leaphart, Maci's mother, said she was excited to see her daughter accomplish her dream of being Little Miss Highlands County 2014.
"She did a lot of practicing," Stacy Leaphart said of her daughter. One thing she concentrated on was working on her turn during the stage walk, the mother said.
She said her daughter knew what to expect.
Maci was one of 17 contestants, ages 8 to 11.
Christie Spiegel, the pageant director, said Maci and the other contestants participated in five practices, beginning in December. The entry fee is $50 and the contestants are typically sponsored by their parents or a local business.
Although the three fair pageants only cover three days of the year, Spiegel said she spends "countless hours" during the months proceeding the pageants putting everything together.
The judges are always from another county. This year, the three judges were from DeSoto County.
"We try to help each other with each other's pageants," she said of herself and her counterparts with other fairs.
During the pageant, each of the 17 contestants walked on the stage and information was provided about them. As for their future careers, the largest number picked becoming a veterinarian. Other planned careers include marine biologist, president of the United States, teacher and police officer.
The contestants had their own cheering squads of family and friends.
Melissa Dixon, mother of Madison Dixon, said five family members attended in support of Madison, but also many friends, as well.
Although Madison didn't win the pageant, she said, it was fun participating and "meeting new people."