MANSFIELD — Brooklyn Petersen is trading her school uniform for an evening gown.
Petersen, a junior at Mansfield Christian School, is one of 42 candidates selected for the Miss Ohio Teen USA competition. She’ll compete for the state title as Miss Mansfield later this month.
If she wins, Petersen will advance to the Miss Teen USA competition in October.
From breaking in high heels to studying up on current events, preparing for pageantry isn’t always glamorous. The 17-year-old is balancing homework, school clubs and upcoming final exams.
Nevertheless, she’s excited to step into the spotlight on May 19 and 20.
Richland Source spoke with Petersen about her journey to the Miss Ohio Teen stage, her passion for serving others and long walks in high heels. Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for clarity and length.
Richland Source: Have you done pageants before?
Petersen: When I was younger, maybe 5 or 6, I won the Sunburst Pageant that used to be held at the Richland Mall. I also participated in the Miss Blueberry pageant when I was little. I won the runner-up for that one. I used to go up on the stage and blow kisses to the judges because I just didn’t have a care in the world. I was just having fun.
I loved doing that when I was younger and then I kind of stepped out of it for a while. I had this phase of being a tomboy. I never wanted to wear dresses, never did anything girly.
As I grew up and embraced my femininity a little bit more, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like an incredible experience.’
I participated in a fair pageant over the summer. I actually won that pageant, so I’m Miss Teen Blueberry.
Richland Source: How does Miss USA differ from or compare to Miss America?
Petersen: Miss USA doesn’t have a talent competition like Miss America does. But they have an interview where you go in front of a panel of judges and they can ask you anything they want.
Both of them have scholarships. They’re both incredible programs.
Miss USA fit a little bit more with what I’m looking for and the direction that they go afterwards. There’s a lot of modeling opportunities. There’s a lot of traveling and I love traveling. That’s why I decided to go with Miss USA instead of Miss America.
My cousin also participates in Miss Teen USA Indiana, so she was a big influence on me and she’s encouraged me and helped me throughout the whole thing.
Richland Source: Did you have any other mentors or role models through this process?
The Miss Ohio Teen USA competition will take place May 19 and 20 in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Supporters can help Miss Mansfield Brooklynn Petersen make it to finals by voting online at www.missohiousa.com/vote.
The overall fan favorite gets a guaranteed spot in the finals, while the contestant with the second highest vote count gets a guaranteed spot in the semi-finals. Votes cost $5 each. Voting began May 5 and ends at midnight on May 19.
Petersen: My cousin is definitely my number one. She’s been my biggest supporter since day one. My whole family has been helping me out through thick and thin.
My grandma and my grandpa, I live with them, and they’ve been pushing me to do my best. Even when I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go walk in my heels for 20 minutes,’ they push me to work hard and be the best version of myself.
Richland Source: What do you enjoy most about pageants?
Petersen: The girls are amazing. All the girls I’ve met through pageants are genuinely some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. When I first started, I thought, ‘Oh, these people must be snobby, they might be back stabby.’ But that’s the farthest thing from the truth.
Also the opportunities that you get. I’ve been able to go to elementary schools as Miss Teen Blueberry. It was so awesome just to see their faces light up.
The service opportunities that come with it, that’s really what stands out to me. I love service. I was able to start my school service club this year and it’s the first one that we’ve had since — I think we might have had one back in the ’90s.
That’s been another eye-opening experience and it’s been so fun to be able to carry on some of the things I’ve learned through pageantry to my service and show others that service is so much fun.
I would encourage anyone to do service. I don’t think it should be one of those things where it’s like ‘Oh, I just have to do it because it’s the thing you’re supposed to do.’ It is fun.
I would rather do that than sit at home and watch TV. I’d rather go out and pick up someone else’s sticks or help at a food kitchen. It’s really fulfilling.
When I first looked at pageants, I thought, ‘Oh, this is so superficial. It’s just girls being judged on their looks.’ But especially with the Miss USA organization, it’s so much more than that. It’s about the judgment of your character. You meet so many incredible girls who are doing incredible things at their age, so it’s really life changing.
What it comes down to more than anything else is what you’re doing for your community. Looks are just a minuscule part of the entire thing, especially from what I’ve seen in Miss USA. This one is very much character-based, which I love.
Richland Source: What kinds of things have you done with your school service group?
Petersen: We were able to help with Matthew 25 Outreach Center‘s food distribution.
It was, I want to say early January, and it was freezing rain all morning when we were out there. But the reward of being able to pack that food, get it ready for people — you can’t even imagine. I think we ended up serving over 500 people alone just at the site. That doesn’t even count the families that food was taken home to.
That in itself was like an eye-opening change.
I am so fortunate to be in the position that I am and be able to help people the way that I can. That’s probably my favorite one I’ve done.
We’ve done a few other ones like raking leaves within our school neighborhood for people, helping out with some banquets for some churches that our school is involved with. It’s been a crazy year, but it’s been so fulfilling and so much fun.
I’m actually making the schedule right now for our service projects next year. I’m trying to get that done before the school year is over.
Richland Source: Have you thought about what you might want to do after high school?
Petersen: I really want to go to Ohio State. I visited the campus last month and fell in love with it, fell in love with the atmosphere, fell in love with people.
I want to go for architecture, which is a really prestigious program, but I’ve worked really hard in school. I’m actually getting my associate’s degree right now in business through North Central State College. I want to have that under my belt.
I love business too, and I always think you can never know enough. You can always be learning more.
I may eventually want to have my own business, but I love architecture. I love buildings. I’d love to study abroad and go somewhere like Italy or Greece, to be able to see that style of architecture. I think that it’s that perfect balance of logic and creativity.
Richland Source: What does the Miss Ohio Teen competition look like? What will you have to do?
Petersen: I’m getting there on Thursday (May 18). They do pre-registration at night and then the next day we’re all there by like 8 a.m. and we immediately go into our interviews with the judges.
First thing on Saturday is the eliminations. You do the same thing over and over again until you’re down to five girls. Then you enter on-stage questions. I really want to make it to that portion.
“I want to show people the importance of things like service and equality and being a good person,” Petersen said. “I think deep down everybody has good in them and it’s important to represent that.”
More than anything, whether I win or lose, I think this is just an amazing experience. Not a lot of girls can say they got to participate in something like this. I want to lead by example.
I want to show people the importance of things like service and equality and being a good person. I think deep down everybody has good in them and it’s important to represent that.
Richland Source: How many rounds of elimination are there?
Petersen: The last competition I went to was Miss Indiana and there were two rounds of elimination there, but there were only about 20 girls in that competition and there’s gonna be about 40 in this one. So I don’t know if there will be more than that.
Richland Source: How have you been preparing?
Petersen: I started prep back in September when I first got accepted into it. I’ve been able to work with my coach, Maria Montgomery. She was Miss Kentucky in 2009 and was fifth in Miss USA. She’s been another amazing help throughout all of this. She’s helping me get prepared and feel comfortable and feel confident more than anything else.
I practice interview questions. I’m trying to do that every night a little bit so when I get there, it feels super natural.
Richland Source: You mentioned practicing walking in heels. How often do you do that?
Petersen: Right now I’m doing it every day. The other day, I really did not want to walk in my heels, but I was like, ‘I got to do it.’ So I put them on and I just took a walk around the neighborhood and ended up walking like a mile, just listening to music. I’ve got blisters on my feet.
I probably looked a little crazy. I was in jeans and a sweatshirt, just walking through my neighborhood in heels, but I was breaking them in and now I feel so much more confident. The last thing you want to do is trip on stage.
Richland Source: What do you expect from the interviews?
Petersen: There’s a lot of questions that are about current events. It’s just knowing where I stand and making sure I can form my opinions into coherent thoughts and really state how I feel about those things.
I definitely think that the interview feels really scary going into it, but as I’ve been practicing more, it’s almost like having a conversation and just like telling the judges how you feel.
I’m trying not to worry about, ‘What if I say something wrong?’ I just want to go in and be myself.
Richland Source: What would you say is the most challenging part of being a pageant?
Petersen: I would say more than anything, it’s yourself. It’s really a mental game more than anything else. It’s easy to think, ‘These girls are all gorgeous and they’re all incredible people. How can I even compete?’
But I think having that self-confidence, having people who surround you that are like, ‘You’re doing great. You’ve got this,’ that’s really helped me overcome that. My biggest critic is myself and I’m sure a lot of people who are in pageants would say that, too.
You can see when somebody feels confident up there versus is really nervous. I really do want to radiate confidence up there.
Richland Source: Would you have duties or responsibilities if you do move on as Miss Teen Ohio or Miss Teen USA?
Petersen: Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot that comes with it. It’s different every year.
I know Kylan Darnell, who’s the current Miss Teen Ohio, actually ended up going to college in Alabama. So she’s down there a lot of the time, but I know she comes up here and does stuff for the organization. She’s traveling all the time. She does a lot of modeling. She does a lot of service work.
A lot of it is fun stuff, but you’re also getting knee-deep in the service aspect of things too, which is really what they promote.
Richland Source: Is there any other information you’d like to share about you?
Petersen: I’m really involved in volleyball and I love playing sports. I love running. I love writing. I’m on my school’s academic challenge team. One of the things that I’m most proud of is I’ve maintained a 4.3 to 4.5 GPA throughout school and taken on those harder classes.
I ended up joining our theater program for the first time this year and I am so happy I did. I wish I would have started earlier. I love to try new things. I love to be involved. I love to get out there and most importantly, I love making connections with people.
I would love to travel the world one day if I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that.
Richland Source: Do you have any advice for younger girls interested in doing pagaents?
Petersen: I would say just do it. If there’s anything telling you, ‘Maybe this is too girly or maybe I’m not pretty enough or maybe I’m not smart enough’ — I promise that is just you telling yourself those things.
It is an incredible experience. You meet so many incredible people. If you’re looking for girls that you can really connect with, you will find them when you do pageants. It is truly a fulfilling experience. You feel so beautiful. You feel like the best version of yourself.
It has completely changed my outlook on myself. It has built my confidence so much. Just go out there, don’t be afraid to try new things.