HERMISTON - Not until the night of March 10, did Alexandria Featherstone know she would reign as queen of the Umatilla County Fair. However, the process of choosing the court began with the application deadline date of Oct. 3.
Peggy Clough, fairgrounds manager, said whittling down the applicants was a difficult process. The fair budget allowed for four members of the court, however Eastern Oregon Telecom, the fair court sponsor, stepped up and gave additional dollars, allowing the court to be expanded to five.
This was a relief to Clough.
"I have no idea how we would have been able to weed it down to four," she said. "We had 13 girls try out and most any of them could have made it."
Featherstone, along with princesses Seren Kopetski, Cheyenne Ward, Kenna Warner and Kirsten Johnson, initially rode horses and were interviewed by a panel of judges.
The judges represented an array of people from Umatilla County, including a mother of a past queen, a 4-H leader, a fair sponsor, the fair board chairman and a county resident who has horsemanship skills.
"We watch and rate them," Clough said. "This year the scores were so close we had to do a much more in-depth check."
Clough said they solicited feedback on the applicants from community leaders, educators and church leaders.
"With so many qualified girls this past year we had to look real deep and truly any of the girls who tried out could have made it," Clough said.
Although there may be an assumed unwritten rule if a young woman was previously on the court, the following year she would become queen if selected for the court.
Clough said over the years the process has shown all should start with an equal opportunity to become queen. After the initial panel of judges observed the young woman, another group participated in the selection process.
Finally on the night of the coronation, a panel of independent judges observed the young women and cast additional votes prior to the crowning of Featherstone.
"So nobody knew until the coronation in March who the queen was going to be," Clough said.
Clough said the process in selecting the queen allowed Barb Cleveland, the fair court chaperone, to spend time with the members of the court. Clough said the extra time also allowed the fair board to watch the members interact with each other, their horses and their families.
Clough said the additional time was invaluable in selecting the queen.
"The girls are all awesome and it was so close," Clough said. "It was really a process this year. You knew you really picked the very best out there but the girls who weren't picked certainly did a good job.
Cleveland, who is in her second year as chaperone, said she enjoys traveling with the court and watching them mature. She said each member of the court acts as an ambassador for Umatilla County.
Cleveland's parents, Everett and Ethel Bagwell, have graciously loaned the use of their motor home for the court to travel in. Cleveland's husband, Tom, acts as chauffeur.
"Tom drives...he's a very gracious man to travel around with all these girls," Cleveland said with a laugh.
Profiles of each member of the court will appear in the East Oregonian this week. A special section, with full-length features and information on the Umatilla County Fair will appear in Saturday's edition.