By Donald Wittkowski
Madison Leigh Kennelly jokingly refers to herself as a beauty pageant “guru.”
Now there’s another pageant-related title she can call herself: Miss Ocean City 2018.
The 18-year-old York College sophomore beat out 11 other contestants Saturday night at the Music Pier in her first attempt to become Miss Ocean City.
“I’m speechless. This is awesome,” a jubilant Kennelly said in an interview minutes after being crowned.
Although it was the first time Kennelly had entered the Miss Ocean City Pageant, she has been competing in beauty contests since she was just 3 years old. This year, she competed in the Miss New Jersey Pageant as Miss Cape May County.
“I’m a guru. If you want to know about pageants, come to me,” she said, laughing.
Kennelly, who lives in Tuckahoe, won the interview and evening gown segments of the Miss Ocean City Pageant. No other contestants won more than one segment, which appeared to make Kennelly the favorite as the winner was about to be announced.
“I had a good feeling, but you don’t want to assume,” Kennelly said, describing the final, tense moments before her name was called. “But I’m a glass-is-half-full type of person.”
First runner-up was Alanna Palombo, second runner-up was Emily Aita and third runner-up was Megan Jessica Keenan.
Kennelly will now play a key role in promoting the city. Miss Ocean City serves as an ambassador for the town through a series of appearances at special events.
Miss Ocean City 2017 McKayla Perry appeared at 63 events while she held the crown over the past 12 months. A video retrospective of Perry’s reign was shown Saturday night in a farewell tribute. Perry, who narrated the retrospective, gave the new Miss Ocean City a sense of what lies ahead for her in the upcoming year.
“You only get to experience this incredible journey once, so make it count,” Perry said as the countdown began to name her successor.
Minutes later, Perry placed the crown on Kennelly’s head.
Kennelly, a mass communications major at York College in York, Pa., hopes to make her career in broadcast journalism.
Her platform is “Lend a Paw! The Power of Pet Therapy.” Kennelly and her therapy dog, Peanut, a female Jack Russell terrier-pug mix, have visited hospitals, hospice centers, geriatric homes, rehabilitation centers and other places to provide comfort to those in need.
Now in its 49th year, the Miss Ocean City Pageant is one of the town’s signature summer events. On Saturday night, the pageant marked the beginning of a new era under the city’s control. The Exchange Club of Ocean City had sponsored the pageant since 1979, but it stepped aside this year to let the city take over.
“They felt they were ready to hand it off to the city, so someone else could devote the time and energy that the pageant needed,” Michael Allegretto, the city’s Community Services director, said of the Exchange Club.
Allegretto noted that nothing really changed with the pageant in the transition to the city’s control. Many of the volunteers who were with the pageant during the Exchange Club’s sponsorship stayed on this year, he said.
“If you came out and didn’t know that the city took over, you wouldn’t know the difference,” Allegretto said.
Michael Hartman, the city’s special events director, who now oversees the pageant, thanked the Exchange Club for its years of pageant sponsorship, as well as its involvement in the community at large.
“It’s really an honor to pick up the helm here and drive forward into a new future,” Hartman said of following in the Exchange Club’s footsteps.