When it’s talent time at a beauty pageant, most competitors opt to sing, dance or play an instrument. A few brave souls mix things up by telling jokes, speed painting or dribbling a basketball to music.
But we’re betting that few pageant contestants, if any, have ever attempted what Eagle Scout Sarah Ross is planning.
At next month’s Miss West Sound pageant, where the winner will compete to become Miss Washington (and then Miss America), Sarah will show off the survival skills she learned as a member of Troop 2019 of the Chief Seattle Council.
Sarah can sing, dance and act, but she won’t do any of that at the Oct. 2 event in Bremerton, Wash. Instead, she plans to wear her Scout uniform as she demonstrates how to make a tripod lashing for an emergency shelter. (To learn it yourself, flip to page 377 of the Scouts BSA Handbook.)
The BSA gave Sarah permission to wear her Scout uniform for the event, but she’ll still need to clear her “wardrobe” with the Miss West Sound directors. The process for contestants to submit wardrobe choices for approval begins soon.
“I chose to do survival skills because it’s the talent that I’m most confident in — and the one that makes me unique,” Sarah says. “I’m a dancer, I’m a singer, I’m an actor, but I feel most comfortable as a Scout.”
‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’
While her pageant talent is unique, Sarah’s Scouting origin story might sound familiar.
Growing up, Sarah watched her older brother experience the Scouting program and saw how much he enjoyed it. When Feb. 1, 2019, arrived and the BSA opened all its programs to girls, Sarah jumped at the chance.
“When the opportunity arose for me to join, I thought it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I should take advantage of,” Sarah says. “The more I learned about the Scouting program, the more I fell in love with it.”
Her experiences in the program validated this decision. Sarah says her time in Troop 2019 has helped her build confidence and independence — skills that will serve her well at the Miss West Sound pageant and when attending Olympic College in Bremerton this fall. She’s planning to get a degree in English and communications before pursuing a career in public relations.
“Before Scouting, I had so much that I wanted to do that I never had the guts to try,” she says, “Scouting made me feel like I am capable of anything that I set my mind to.”
‘I didn’t give up’
For her Eagle project, Sarah redesigned the plaza outside VFW Post 239 in Bremerton. Sarah and her team of volunteers resurfaced the sidewalks, installed new plaques, relocated a flagpole dedicated to a Medal of Honor recipient, put in plants and added two quarter-scale replica beams honoring those who died on 9/11.
But as many aspiring Eagle Scouts realize, the actual labor is often the easiest part.
While planning the project, Sarah went through 10 different drafts of the design before landing on the final layout.
“I learned about my perseverance and dedication,” she says. “But no matter how difficult this project got, I didn’t give up. Even in the early stages, when it wasn’t too late to change projects, I stuck with it because I knew this was the project I wanted to do.”
Scouting and pageants
If there’s a single word that describes every pageant contestant, it’s this one: confident.
But that confidence has to come from somewhere. It needs roots from which to flourish.
For Sarah, who is now 18, those roots were in Scouting. While time enjoying outdoor adventures inspired this confidence, Sarah says it was her boards of review that really stood out.
These sit-downs between Scouts and adults are required for every rank from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout.
“I was told while in Scouts that the boards of review are intended to help prepare Scouts for job and college interviews,” Sarah says. “I bet they never imagined that I would take those interview skills to the Miss America organization.”
Pageant judges also look for life experience, Sarah says. That’s what keeps titleholders “grounded while they are serving as a public figure.”
Even though she’s just 18, Sarah has that life experience — thanks in part to Scouting.
“Scouting just gave me a lot of life experience,” she says. “Specifically as a female Eagle Scout, Scouting has provided me with a lot of experience in the media. I am used to speaking in front of people and presenting myself in a professional setting, which are also very important skills for a titleholder.”
Inspiring young women
By showcasing her survival skills during the Miss West Sound pageant, Sarah intends to go beyond merely showing what she can do.
She wants to show other young women what they can do — that they can count on themselves to survive.
That’s a message that has become painfully relevant in recent years. Over the past two summers, Washingtonians have seen their skies become filled with smoke from wildfires. They’ve seen unusually heavy snowfall. And they’ve been warned that the largest earthquake in decades could strike any day now.
“With natural disasters becoming increasingly frequent, emergency preparedness and survival skills could come into use any day,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s platform is a push to build these skills in young women — addressing what she sees as a gap in who these skills are traditionally taught to.
“It’s important for everyone to have survival skills,” she says. “It’s important for people to know how to take care of themselves and others in emergency situations.”