SEBRING - Staying poised in front of a crowd can be tough for a 13-year-old in an evening gown and high heels. But what worries Celeste Breylinger more is making the judges fall in love with her hog, Cledius.
Breylinger has her sights set on both a beauty pageant crown and a blue ribbon for the hog competition at the Highlands County Fair.
The annual Highlands County tradition returns to Firemen's Field from Friday, Feb. 8 through Saturday, Feb. 16.
Breylinger and her hog will compete against more than 100 exhibition swine and owners at the livestock show. As a Junior Miss Highlands County participant, the odds are better for the Avon Park Middle School student, who will be competing against 21 contestants.
"My friends are saying that I'm going to have to walk my pig in high heels and a gown," said Breylinger, with a smile. "It's either heels, makeup and lights, or boots, hog feed and shovels.
"With pigs, it's T-shirts and jeans and I feel kind of like a farm girl going to the city, but when I have to put on the dress, I'm prissy."
This is the first pageant for the contestant who hopes to become a lawyer, with a minor in journalism after attending college.
The Miss Highlands County 2008 Beauty Pageant will feature 13 contestants, ages 16 to 19, at 7 p.m. Monday night at Pavilion A at the Highlands County Fair.
Tuesday's competition will feature 12-15-years-olds vying for the Junior Miss Highlands County 2008 Beauty Pageant at 7 p.m. at the Pavilion A at the fairgrounds.
Christie Spiegel, pageant director, said the girls will be interviewed prior to the program, then will be judged on dress, poise and composure, and will have to answer questions. An opening music-and-dance performance, featuring all contestants, will start off each night's show.
Competitive instincts can flare up in the 16-by-10-square-foot back stage area, while the girls still build self-confidence and self-esteem and make new friends, said Spiegel.
Miss Highlands County receives a $1,000 scholarship earmarked for education, or cash toward an entry fee for the Miss Florida Pageant. She will also receive a $750 gift certificate from Fitness Together.
This year's local pageant theme is "A Touch of Paris in Highlands County."
Dawn Zahller, assistant director, said during the sixth of about seven practices that all of the contestants were practicing very hard and all seemed to be having fun.
"They're nervous and excited," said Zahller. "If they don't walk away with a placement, they do walk away with new friendships."
Samantha Wilson, Miss Highlands County 2007, said she was shocked to be chosen to represent the county, though honored. The singer at Avon Park High School plans to attend Florida State University and major in international business, while yearning to travel the world.
"Christ is No. 1 in my life," said Wilson. "I've learned to put him first."
Morgan Kohl, Junior Miss Highlands County 2007, will relinquish her crown on Tuesday, after attending about 25 functions wearing the tiara and sash. With dreams of becoming a pediatric cancer nurse and becoming Miss America, Kohl said she was shy, but became more outgoing during her reign.
"I have to be myself," she said. "People like you for who you are. I like people and who I am."
Rebekah Moody, 19, attends Florida College of Natural Health and is excited after competing again, following a favorable finish last year.
"I really want to be involved in Highlands County," said Moody. "And be as confident as possible."