She may have sang “American Honey” as her talent, but Franklin County High School senior Erin Elizabeth Riley was the Florida seafood industry’s honey Saturday night.
The 17-year-old daughter of Larry and Heather Riley was named the 2014 Miss Florida Seafood, returning the crown to Carrabelle for the first time in nearly two decades.
“I was very overwhelmed,” she said Tuesday, finally coming back down to earth after the excitement. “It’s a great honor. I’m really excited about it, to represent our seafood industry and our community.”
The young ladies were judged based on four categories - Interview, Talent, Poise and Appearance, and Casual Wear and Question - to determine who came home with the crown, placed on her head by the outgoing Miss Florida Seafood Morgan Martin.
Riley captured the interview portion of the contest, which accounts for a significant piece of the score, as well as the poise and appearance category. Dressed in a blue jacket and gray slacks, and wearing a captivating necklace of blue semi-precious stones, she was runner-up in the casual wear category, which includes the contestants answering within 30 seconds one of 10 possible questions they have reviewed, but don’t know which one, that Festival Board President John Solomon will ask that night, based on a random selection.
Riley also voted Miss Congeniality by her peers in the pageant, winning a $50 check from the 1983 Miss Florida Seafood Karen Petteway.
“I got very close to all the girls,” she said afterwards. “It was a great experience, lots of fun. It went very well.”
Riley worked closely with family and friends throughout the pageant, borrowing a prom dress from a close friend, having her mom do her hair, and a friend Kaley Ison apply her makeup.
Riley’s roots in the seafood festival go back several generations. Her father’s father, Buddy Riley, who passed away four years ago, was a commercial fisherman. Her mother’s family, the Crums, have owned both a seafood house and a retail market in Eastpoint.
“Franklin County has some of the best local seafood you’ll ever have,” she said. “People are out there every day, working hard, so everyone can enjoy that. Oysters are my favorite.”
In fact, right after leaving the pageant, Riley, family and friends, savored oysters at the Pit Stop in Carrabelle.
Riley was sponsored by Saltwater Solutions, a charter fishing business owned by her uncle Travis Huckeba, and by High Calling Church, where her uncle, Ron Crum, serves as pastor. Her introduction at the outset of the pageant said she planned to major in accounting and finance, eventually own her own business, and start a foundation to support missionaries here and abroad.
Talent, and smiles, abundant
Finishing as first runner-up was Macey Ryanna Hunt, the 17-year-old daughter of Jayme Votaw and Johnny Hunt of Carrabelle, and a senior at Franklin County High School. She won the casual wear and question portion of the pageant, and was runner-up in poise and appearance.
Hunt, who hopes to pursue a doctorate in astrophysics, performed a flute solo “Safe and Sound” as her talent. She was sponsored by 2 Als at the beach Cafe.
Katie Abel, the 17-year-old daughter of Scott and Chanda Abel, of Apalachicola, won the talent portion of the pageant, dancing to “When I Look At You,” a song made famous by Miley Cyrus. A senior at Port St Joe High School, planning on pursuing a career as an x-ray technician, she was sponsored by Steve Rash and Waterstreet Seafood.
Aaliyah Ireonna West, the 16-year-old daughter of Melissa West and Israel Ling, of Apalachicola, was runner-up in the interview portion of the competition. Hoping to graduate as valedictorian of the Franklin County High School Class of 2015, she was sponsored by Phoenix Family Health Care. For her talent, she danced to “Say Something,” a song popularized by Christina Aguilera.
The fifth contestant in the pageant was Jessica Schmidt, the 17-year-old daughter of Robert Schmidt and Heather Huron, of Sumatra. A junior at Franklin County High School, she plans a career in early childhood education. For her talent, she danced to “Human,” a hit song by Christina Perri. Schmidt was sponsored by Weems Memorial Hospital.
Once again emceeing the pageant was Ginger Coulter, with help from Solomon, as well as Martin. Also serving on the all-volunteer board are Vice President Tress Dameron, Secretary Andrea Register, Treasurer Danny Gay, Past Presidents Ted Mosteller, Michael Shuler, Jennifer Brown, Kevin Ward, R.J. Shelley, Danielle Layne and Pam Brownell
The three judges for the evening were Shawn Yao, a senior crime lab analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who has judged the pageant in past years; and a married couple, Tonya and Bobby Rowe, of Calhoun County. Both the Rowes, parents of four children, have been active with pageants for more than a decade, as coaches and as judges on the local, state and national levels.
Who I most admire
During breaks in the pageant, when the young ladies either have to change clothes, or the judges need time to tally scores, the audience was entertained by Ginny Griner, who sang “Jesus Will Still Be There,” and “When I Fall in Love,” and by Martin, who performed the dance routine that catapulted her to victory in last year’s pageant. Pam Nobles once again handled the choreography challenge, as she has for many years.
In their introductions during the segment of the pageant where they wear gowns, and are judged on their modeling abilities and appropriateness of attire, the young women showed they were a vivid portrayal of the vibrant dynamism of the county’s young people, and who they hold up as their role models.
West, active on the girls basketball team, class treasurer and with Students Working Against Tobacco, among several things, said she most admires the late Maya Angelou because “no matter where life leads you, never forget where you started. Her humanitarian-like personality has inspired many others to actively change the world around them.”
Abel, active as a dancer, with her church youth group and with yearbook, said she most admires “her Papa Emory Roach. He is a very hard-working, dependable man. He is a model of what a godly man, father and friend should be.”
Hunt, active with girls soccer, Brain Bowl, coastal cleanup, among others, said she most admires “Cat Osterman, a famous softball pitcher for the USA National team. She has overcome many obstacles in her life and still remained focused on her goal and aspirations.”
Riley, active with her church youth group, cheerleading and student government, said she most admires her five aunts Kristi, Terrah, Allison, Deene and Gina. “They are all different, but have all shown her how to be a strong, successful woman, who puts God and family first. Through being a part of their lives, she has learned that with the support of family and faith in God, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to,” she said.
Schmidt, who takes part in band and soccer and enjoys horseback riding and fishing, among lots of outdoor pursuits, said she most admires “her Papa Joe Schmidt, because every time she has ever needed help with anything, he was always there for her. He has also taught her to accept people for who they are.”
In addition to the pageant, the audience learned of the selection of country music singer Craig Campbell as the featured entertainment at the festival, on Saturday night, Nov. 1. The 35-year-old singer from Lyons, Ga. has released two albums, “Craig Campbell” in 2011 and “Never Regret” in 2013, and has had five singles on the country chart, including his debut single, “Family Man,” "Fish,” and "When I Get It.”
While the pageant attracted five dynamic and attractive young ladies this year, it has not been without its challenges of drawing a suitable number of contestants to avoid the brief period a few years ago when the selection had to be made solely by essay, among no more than three contestants.
Riley said she plans to work on changing that. “I hope to bring more interest in the pageant and get more attention for more girls to have an opportunity to be in it,” she said.