The University of Alabama

UA Students Compete in Miss America, Seek to Fulfill Dreams, Help Children

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.  — From academics to athletics, students at The University of Alabama are known to approach their goals with a championship spirit. On Sept. 15, two students will take that spirit to the stage of the 2014  Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., where they will compete for the crown, scholarships and a way to promote their youth-based social platforms across the country.

Those students are the reigning Miss Alabama, Chandler Champion, a junior from Leeds majoring in dance and broadcast journalism; and Miss Michigan, Haley Williams, a junior from Saline, Mich., majoring in public relations with minors in philosophy and art history.

Chandler Champion, Miss Alabama

Chandler Champion, Miss Alabama

The students will compete for the winning $50,000 Miss America scholarship, part of the pageant’s annual scholarship awards that total some $340,000. Champion, who has earned about $55,000 in pageant scholarships to date, said her experience at the Capstone has strengthened her momentum toward achieving her personal goals.

“As a student at UA, it has been a priority to expand my knowledge and obtain the best education possible,” Champion said. “I have been able to apply the same drive and work ethic that I use in my education to reach my goal of becoming Miss America.”

Champion has been a lifelong student of dance, so UA’s distinguished dance program made selecting a college and a major easy for her.

“Dancing daily as part of my curriculum not only helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay physically fit, but it also prepares me for the talent portion of competition,” she said.

One professor who has had a significant impact on Champion’s educational and competitive goals is Sarah Barry, associate professor of dance.

“(Barry) is one of the most inspiring people I have ever had the honor of meeting,” Champion said. “She encourages her students to strive for excellence.”

As Champion travels to promote her childhood literacy platform, she hopes students will draw inspiration and encouragement from Chandler’s Challenge, a program designed by Champion to offer children tangible incentives for completing as many hours of reading as possible.

For two years, Leeds Elementary School has participated in her challenge during March, offering a gift card to the school’s top reader and a pizza and ice cream party to the class that logs the most combined reading hours. This year, Leeds Elementary students reported more than 1,052 hours of reading, and their DIBELS benchmark reading scores increased markedly.

“I feel like I’m truly making a difference, and, as Miss Alabama, I’d like to expand that across the state,” Champion said.

But her passion for promoting literacy in schools doesn’t stop there. Last year, Champion visited the library at Birmingham’s Rushton School, a campus-based school for emotionally conflicted students ages 12-18. The visit inspired her to help revamp the library.

She began working to secure donations of funds and books for the project. She then scheduled classes at UA to allow her to leave campus on Thursday afternoons, devoting three consecutive days each week to work on the project.

Thanks in part to her efforts, what began as a storage room containing a handful of books became a true library that, as of its opening in April, had more than 1,500 books that Champion labeled and organized.

Haley Williams uses her role as Miss Michigan to help children in a different way.  Her social platform, which focuses on conquering childhood grief, was inspired by the experience of losing her father when she was 4. She used bereavement organizations within her community to help her find peace and acceptance, and she said she wants to ensure other children have the same opportunities, no matter where they live.

Haley Williams, Miss Michigan

Haley Williams, Miss Michigan

“As a society, we do not necessarily recognize the importance of grief services until we are faced with the loss of a loved one,” Williams said. “My goal is to encourage and inspire children who have faced tragedy to continue to live happy, healthy and meaningful lives- not in spite of their adversity, but in honor of their lost loved one and the legacy they would wish to carry on.”

Williams, a former Crimsonette and Diamond Doll as well as an ambassador for UA, credits her Capstone experience with helping her prepare for pageant competition.

Twirling with the Crimsonettes helped her maintain a healthy lifestyle while perfecting her talent, and she says that her ability to remain poised during the pageants’ interview sessions is thanks to what she’s learned in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences.

“Confidently and calmly articulating my thoughts is a crucial skill in successfully fulfilling the job of Miss America, and I owe my ability to feel comfortable in doing so to my education at UA,” said Williams, who plans to earn a master’s degree in public administration. “I believe the pillars of the Miss America Organization are daily values to live by, and my life at UA has very much prepared me for the job of Miss Michigan.”

Both Champion and Williams plan to return to UA to complete their degrees after taking some time off to focus on preparing for the Miss America competition.

But, for now, their sights are set firmly on Atlantic City, where they will bring a Roll Tide spirit to vying for the Miss America title in the first year of the competition’s return to the city where it all began.

“Moving the pageant back to Atlantic City is more than a return home, it is recognition of the tradition and history that the iconic Miss America Organization represents,” Williams said.

“I’m incredibly excited,” Champion said. “I’ve wanted this for so long, and it’s much more meaningful to be competing for the crown as the pageant goes back to the true roots of its tradition.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Kristi Payne or Richard LeComte, UA Media Relations, 205/348-3782, rllecomte@advance.ua.edu
  • SOURCE: For the Miss America Alabama pageant, contact Linda Russell, executive secretary, at 205/871-6276, missalaamerica@yahoo.com. For information on the Miss America pageant, go to http://www.missamericapressroom.com/.