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Miss ND officials react to Miss America dropping its swimsuit competition

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund, from North Dakota, reacts after she was crowned at Boardwalk Hall Sept. 10, 2017, in Atlantic City. Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press via USA TODAY NETWORK

WILLISTON, N.D.—On Tuesday, June 5, the day before preliminary rounds were to start in the Miss North Dakota Scholarship Pageant, the Miss America organization dropped a bombshell — it was scrapping the swimsuit part of the competition.

Debbie Richter, the president of the Miss North Dakota board, said there are still a lot of details that haven't been released, and the decision isn't going to change this week's Miss North Dakota pageant, which takes place Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at Bakken Elementary.

She said the reaction among the competitors has been somewhat mixed, with some likely glad to hear the swimsuit section was going away while others are disappointed by the change.

But, she said, the national organization has the best interests of all the competitors at heart when making decisions. Part of the rationale for the swimsuit competition was to display fitness, but that isn't the only way to gauge health.

"Physical fitness shows whether you're wearing a swimsuit of not," Richter said.

The swimsuit competition has been part of Miss America since the pageant started in Atlantic City in 1921. But, Richter pointed out, plenty about the pageant is different than it was nearly 100 years ago.

"Now this is just another change," she said.

In a news release, Gretchen Carlson, board of trustees chair for Miss America, said the move signaled a major shift.

"Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment," she said.

In place of the swimsuit portion of the competition. Miss America hopefuls will have a live session with the judges where they'll talk about their goals and what they're passionate about. The evening gown part of the competition is also going to change.

"The former evening gown competition will now give participants the freedom to outwardly express their self-confidence in evening attire of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives," the organization wrote in a news release.

B. Michael Quale, longtime producer of the Miss North Dakota Pageant, said part of the reason for the change might be a recent shift in Miss America's national leadership.

Carlson was named chairwoman of the organization's board, and seven of the nine board members are now women. Part of what spurred those changes were emails that came out last year in which Sam Haskell, the organization's former CEO, disparaged former winners.

Many of the women now in leadership positions have long been associated with Miss America, including Carlson, who was Miss Minnesota in 1988 and Miss America in 1989.

"They still believe it's a powerful organization for women, for education," Quale said.

A former Miss North Dakota was part of the announcement. Cara Mund, who was named Miss America in September, tweeted twice Tuesday about the change.

"We're changing out of our swimsuits and into a whole new era #byebyebikini #MissAmerica2019," she posted early Tuesday.

Later in the day she posted a link to a news release about the change.

Mund will be in Williston this week as part of the Miss North Dakota pageant.