WATERFORD - Two area teens soon will have the opportunity to step into the spotlight at an event that may prove to be the bright spot of a rough year.
Sisters Cassidy, 14, and Baylee, 12, Cunningham, both of Waterford and students at Waterford Elementary School, received an invitation earlier this month to participate in the National American Miss competition at the state level June 28-30 in Columbus based on photos they recently submitted.
While the girls are preparing their clothes and working on their performances for the talent portion, they do so with heavy hearts.
Waterford sisters Cassidy Cunningham, 14, left, and Baylee Cunningham, 12, are preparing for the state level of the National American Miss competition in June 28-30 in Columbus. (Photo by Phil Foreman)
Their mother, Melissa Cunningham, said she and her husband traveled in mid-March to Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn., for a NASCAR's Food City 500. While in Bristol, Melissa said her husband, Bill Cunningham, had a massive heart attack and died at age 47.
"He would have called us Barbie dolls," Baylee said, of their father's reaction to their being a part of the upcoming pageant.
Cassidy said her father would be joking about it in some random way because the two share a similar sense of humor.
"Your dad would have been excited," Melissa said.
Cassidy and Baylee said they have spent a lot of time during the past two months dealing with their father's death by talking to close friends who have lost someone close to them.
"It's a hard time, but it's good (for this)," Melissa said.
The program offers cash, travel opportunities, a new Ford Mustang and college scholarships. The Cunningham sisters were selected to advance after a May 1 photo shoot in Cambridge.
Participants can compete in several competitions, including casual wear, formal wear and talent. After the Columbus event, Cassidy and Baylee will find out if they made it through to nationals in late November at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
Cassidy said the casual wear competition would include clothing such as skinny jeans or boots, while formal wear would be a formal prom dress-type that mirrors the participant's personality.
The judges want to see if it "represents personality and the way you carry yourself on stage in the dress," Cassidy said.
The slogan on the National American Miss website summarizes the goals of the program: "Growing Confidence."
"Girls shouldn't be shy about anything," Cassidy said. "That's what the pageant is supposed to do - help girls get out of their bubble."
To make it as far as they can, the family is planning car washes and bake sales to raise money. The program's entry fees are $450 per person, and preliminary classes are $50 each. The girls said those classes cover a variety of topics such as interviews and training with former participants. They also are hoping for sponsorships. No fundraising dates have been set.
Cassidy and Baylee are thinking about their talent for the competition. Cassidy said she might go with Martina McBride's "Concrete Angels" or "You Can Let Go Now" by Crystal Shawanda.
"I want to play saxophone," Baylee said.
Beyond June's state pageant, both girls already have plans for their futures.
Cassidy said she wants to go into rehabilitation and cancer research.
"I want to help people out," Cassidy said. "It makes me sad that other people lose their parents and their children (to cancer)."
Baylee, however, has a different hands-on career planned after a recent science fair project.
"I like welding," she said, "because you are working with metal and fire and always working in a garage."