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'This is really a big first': ND woman's Miss America win could boost interest in local pageants

Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacts after being announced as the winner of the Miss America competition in Atlantic City Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark Makela / Reuters1 / 5
Fellow contestants congratulate Miss North Dakota Cara Mund, who won the Miss America competition in Atlantic City Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark Makela / Reuters2 / 5
Miss North Dakota Cara Mund competes in the swimsuit competition of the Miss America competition in Atlantic City Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark Makela / Reuters3 / 5
Miss North Dakota Cara Mund reacts after being announced as the winner of the 97th Miss America Competition in Atlantic City Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark Makela / Reuters4 / 5
Miss North Dakota Cara Mund competes in the evening gown component of the Miss America competition in Atlantic City Sunday, Sept. 10. Mark Makela / Reuters5 / 5

FARGO—People involved in the local pageant community say the crowning of a woman from North Dakota as Miss America has been a long, long time coming.

Cara Mund, a 23-year-old Bismarck native, became the first-ever Miss North Dakota to win the prestigious Miss America title at the pageant Sunday night, Sept. 10, in Atlantic City, N.J.

North Dakota has sent contestants to the Miss America pageant for 70 years and only three have made it to the top 10, most recently Roxana Saberi in 1997.

Kathy Jones, executive director of the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Organization, said everyone is on a high over Mund's success.

"Amazing. This is really a big first," Jones said in a phone interview while waiting to catch a flight back home from the pageant.

Jones was part of a group of more than 30 North Dakotans who traveled to Atlantic City to support Mund, and was there the entire week to see the preliminary competitions, including evening and swim wear.

She said she thinks Mund won because she's so well-rounded.

"Very smart, very well spoken, and her talent was strong," Jones said.

Meagan McDougall, director of the Miss West Fargo pageant, also made the trip, and said the experience was surreal.

"We're really hopeful more girls from North Dakota will picture themselves on the Miss America stage, because it's possible," McDougall said.

Both women hope Mund's win will prompt more interest locally in pageants.

McDougall said there was a surge three years ago when North Dakota's Jacky Arness was named Judge's Choice at Miss America.

Local pageants have struggled from time to time—surprising, organizers say, considering the amount of scholarship money given to participants.

Mund stated on stage that prior to Miss America, she'd earned $45,000 in scholarships during her time in the Miss North Dakota system.

The local pageant season is underway, with the next competition slated for 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at the North Dakota State University Memorial Union.

There, the West Fargo Preliminary Pageant will crown a new Miss Fargo, Miss West Fargo and Miss Bonanzaville, in addition to teen and princess divisions.

McDougall said 19 participants, ages 5 through 24, are signed up, and it's not too late for others to do so.

Winners go on to the Miss North Dakota competition in Williston next June, with the winner there advancing to Miss America.

For now, Mund is enjoying the whirlwind that comes with wearing the Miss America crown.

She's expected to make the media rounds Tuesday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Live with Kelly and Ryan," and NBC's "The Today Show," and will remain in New York City for a while.

Jones is excited to help plan a public homecoming for Mund in Bismarck in a few months.

"A visit by any Miss America is a big deal, but this will be our own girl," Jones said.

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