Miss Maryland crowned
June 23, 2004
Ashley Parker
Special to The Gazette

She said she was confident. She said she was expecting to win.

But when Miss Gaithersburg Tiffany Jenkins was crowned Miss Maryland 2004 Saturday night at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, she said she was awe-struck.

"Overjoyed, out of breath, like the wind was knocked out of me," Jenkins said, describing her initial reaction to hearing she would represent her state at the Miss America pageant this September. "It was surreal at first."

Jenkins, however, didn't have much time to bask in the glory -- the crown, a red fox fur coat and hat, a gold and diamond ring, a $15,000 cash scholarship and the use of a car for one year -- because she was whisked away to the presidential suite of the Clarion Inn for a sleepover and night of girl talk with last year's Miss Maryland, Marina Harrison.

Now she's in Chicago dealing with paperwork, after a brief stint in West Virginia. And that's just the beginning of the whirlwind tour that eventually ends in Atlantic City, N.J., with the crowning of Miss America 2004 this September.

"I was supposed to have packed before the Saturday night competition, just in case," said a giggling Jenkins, who had not packed a single thing. "What happened was [Harrison] had to go down to the room and pack for me because I had forgotten about it."

Jenkins said the sleepover was especially meaningful, because she and Harrison "had gotten along well the prior year when she had won and I had gotten second runner-up."

This was Jenkins' fifth pageant, and her second time competing for the Miss Maryland Scholarship Organization.

"We stayed up until four in the morning, just talking," said Jenkins, a 23-year-old Silver Spring native, who competed as Miss Gaithersburg because Silver Spring offered no pageant. "Marina Harrison ... just told me about some of the activities that they were doing, the type of clothes I'd be shopping for, who I'd be working with, who our wonderful traveling companion was."

"She told me to have fun, be myself and be confident, because we're going to win [Miss America] this year," she said.

And winning one of the two titles in the Miss Gaithersburg and Miss Germantown Scholarship Program this past January was the first step.

"I was just very happy to have won Gaithersburg, because it gave me that second chance to go back and compete for Miss Maryland," Jenkins said.

Bruce Banley, executive director of the Gaithersburg pageant, said he had high hopes for Jenkins after watching her sweep the local competition.

"I thought they were very good," he said, referring to both Jenkins and Miss Germantown Michelle Orey, who joined Jenkins in the top 10 at last weekend's pageant. "She's just as pretty on the inside as she is outside."

But beauty will only get pageant hopefuls so far -- the competition includes a talent portion, an interview, and casual wear, lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit and evening wear events -- and Jenkins said she began a rigorous training routine in preparation for the Miss Maryland pageant.

"I prepared more and I knew where I made my mistakes last year and I improved on those," she said. "What I expected was to win. That's what I wanted to do, and I geared all my preparation to that. I had to persevere through any types of hardships I might have had; 'I'm sleepy, I have a headache. Nope, you've got to do it because Miss Maryland would do it.'"

Still, the 23 other contestants Jenkins met last week in Hagerstown proved stiff competition.

"These girls are very, very talented, very diverse young women," said Jodi Colombo, who sits on the executive board of the Miss Maryland Scholarship Organization. "Most of these young women are competing to get the scholarship money so they can continue their education."

Jenkins, who attended Hampton University and now is earning her master's degree in counseling and psychology at Howard University, said she plans to use the scholarship money to help with her master's program, as well as a future doctorate in psychology.

Watching his daughter onstage, George Jenkins said he found himself both nervous and excited.

"I looked at the other girls and saw that they were very, very good and I said to myself, 'This is going to be a tight call,' and it was," he said. "I thought about how beautiful she looked and the fact that she performed admirably well in all of her events. I was sitting there hoping that the judges would see what I was seeing."

Apparently they did.

"She's a beautiful, bright, talented young woman, and I think she will do very well in Miss America," Colombo said.

After all, the Miss America pageant this September is the ultimate goal, and a victory this year would be especially sweet -- not only is it Jenkins' last eligible year to compete, but a Miss Maryland has never left with the coveted crown.

"We've had a lot of strong candidates these past few years and they've paved the way for me to really stand out," Jenkins said. "Last year Marina [Harrison] was third runner-up, the year before that Camille Lewis was fourth runner-up. Hopefully I won't be second runner-up; I'll be Miss America."

Colombo hopes so, too.

The judges "are always looking for the best person to represent our state, someone who is hopefully going to go on and win Miss America," Colombo said. "The other thing we look for in judging is someone who has a strong platform, who can talk to people and relate to people."

Jenkins' platform is the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life fund-raiser, a platform she chose because "a lot of my family members have been affected by cancer. With cancer, everyone is affected and I said, 'We've got to do something about it.'"

Now, Jenkins is promoting Relay for Life -- her team has already raised more than $1,000 -- as well as preparing for the national competition with vocal training, mock interviews, wardrobe shopping and exercise.

But whatever happens, Colombo said Jenkins should remember what the Miss Maryland officials tell all of the contestants -- everyone is a winner.

"They all worked very hard to get to that point... no matter whose name is called out," she said.

The other Miss Maryland pageant runners-up included first runner-up Miss Caroline Summerfest Jessica Diaz, 23, with a $6,500 scholarship, second runner-up Miss Allegany County Rachel Ellsworth, 20, with a $4,300 scholarship, third runner-up Miss Burtonsville Kelly George, 22, with a $3,000 scholarship and fourth runner-up Miss Tidewater Heather Molnar, 18, with a $2,500 scholarship.