By Donald Wittkowski
The theme of the Miss Ocean City Pageant this year was “Dreams Come True.” McKayla Perry is living proof that they really do.
The 19-year-old Perry was crowned Miss Ocean City 2017 on Saturday night, capping a dream that she has had since she was a young girl.
“It’s surreal,” a jubilant Perry said minutes after being named the winner. “This week has been a dream. I’ve been waiting for this since I was 12. To finally see it happen is magic.”
She is the daughter of Jennifer and Brian Perry of 55th Street. Her family and friends rushed up on the stage of the Music Pier after she was crowned.
To realize her dream, Perry had to overcome some last-minute adversity. She originally had planned to perform a dance number in the talent portion, but an injury forced her to sing instead. She told the audience that she had only three hours before the pageant began to come up with a song, a new routine and a new outfit.
Perry’s credentials as a dancer include performing on stage at the Miss America Pageant preliminaries and appearing at the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day parades in Philadelphia, according to her bio.
In addition to dancing and being a dance teacher, her interests include volunteering at church, crafts, yoga, running, surfing and weightlifting.
Perry, a 2015 graduate of Ocean City High School, is a student at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing. She plans to earn a four-year degree in early education to become a teacher.
Her career goals include teaching kindergarten during the day and dance classes at night. She said those two things would “share my love of reading and my passion for dance.”
She competed in the Miss Ocean City Pageant last year and was second runner-up. On Saturday, she beat out 16 other contestants to take the crown. She also won the swimsuit competition.
First runner-up was Sophia Terry, a 16-year-old Ocean City High School student. Terry was named the winner of the evening wear competition and the interview segment with the judges.
The pageant is a longstanding tradition in Ocean City. The Exchange Club of Ocean City, the primary sponsor, originally thought that the pageant was in its 48th year, but belatedly discovered that it actually dates to 1951.
“It has become part of the whole Ocean City tradition,” Exchange Club President Frank Faverzani said. “Ocean City is a great small town. It’s a great family resort, but it’s also a great small town.”
Since taking over the pageant in 1979, the Exchange Club has awarded about $300,000 in scholarship money to the contestants. Faverzani estimated the scholarship pool would be about $12,000 for this year’s pageant.
Miss Ocean City is an independent pageant. The winner does not go on to compete for the Miss New Jersey crown, which is a preclude to the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
As the new Miss Ocean City, Perry will play a key role in promoting the town. Faverzani said Miss Ocean City serves as an ambassador for the town through a series of appearances at special events.
In her farewell remarks to the pageant Saturday night, Shannon Wallace, Miss Ocean City 2016, spoke of the importance of her duties during her yearlong reign.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Wallace said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”
Wallace was given an honorary key to the city by Mark Soifer, the town’s longtime public relations director who is retiring this year. Wallace was also honored in a proclamation by Mayor Jay Gillian.
One of the most poignant moments of the pageant’s ceremonies Saturday night was when Faverzani presented Soifer with a plaque to honor him for his decades of service to the city. The audience responded by giving Soifer a standing ovation and thunderous applause.