Miss Georgia Carly Mathis won the swimsuit category and Miss Florida Myrrhanda Jones won the talent competition Thursday during the last night of preliminary competition at Miss America.

Mathis, 22, is promoting heart health and heart safety as her platform. Mathis said she was overweight as a child and learned at age 19 she had high cholesterol, and that revelation led her to change her lifestyle.

Jones, 20, is promoting comfort for kids. She won the audience over Thursday at Boardwalk Hall with a dazzling performance while wearing a brace on her right knee.

Jones said she was in rehearsal Thursday when she did a high leap and her knee buckled.

She was taken to a local hospital and an orthopedic surgeon said she could undergo surgery for her torn ACL and NCL or continue with the competition. She told her doctor that if she had to she would "get out there and stand there and finish competing."

Jones received $2,000 scholarship for winning the night's talent event, while Mathis receives $1,000 for winning in swimsuit.

The last night of preliminary competition also featured a celebration of Donna Axum Whitworth, who is celebrating her 50th anniversary of being crowned Miss America.

"Miss America is back and bigger than ever," Whitworth said. She was the first Miss America to join the Miss America Organization's Board of Directors.

Current Miss America Mallory Hagan also appeared on stage and told host Dena Blizzard about her most surprising discovery since becoming Miss America.

"Grown men are the ones who ask if they can touch it," she said of men who want to touch the Miss America crown.

Chris Harrison, one of this year's Miss America hosts also appeared on stage Thursday.

"This is where it should be," Harrison said of Miss America's return to Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.

Now that preliminary competition is complete the speculation about who will be the next Miss America is in full swing.

"We watch it every year," said Tina O'Connor of Nashville, Tenn. as she stopped to take a picture of the sign outside Boardwalk Hall proclaiming Atlantic City "Home of the Miss America Pageant since 1921."

O'Connor's whole family gets in on trying to pick the winner and she said her track record isn't too shabby.

"I usually get in the top five," she said.

This year, her top picks are Miss Tennessee Shelby Thompson, of course, and Miss Montana Sheridan Pope.

"It's outer beauty, but I also pay attention to what charities and causes they promote," she said.

O'Connor made her picks in part after seeing photographs of the 53 contestants.

"You want to see the person," said O'Connor who works in cosmetics sales.

But while some have fun speculating who might win, delegations of friends family and fans at Thursdays preliminaries made their picks clear.

The Connecticut delegation inside Boardwalk Hall was clad in green T-shirts that read "Team Tarpey" and had more than enough members to spell out Connecticut on green signs to support Kaitlin Tarpey.

Fans of Miss Missouri and Miss New Hampshire came with signs covered in the photos of their favorite. And Miss California fans carried a rhinestone encrusted CA to support Crystal Lee.

So far, Miss Mississippi Chelsea Rick and Miss Oklahoma Kelsey Griswold have each won in the swimsuit competition on nights one and two, respectively, while Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo and Miss Minnesota Rebecca yeh have each won in talent.

Two former contestants, also taking pictures to remember the return of Miss America to Atlantic City, were also on the Boardwalk Thursday ready the night's preliminaries.

Suellen Cochran Demaline was Miss Ohio 1985 and Samantha Mohr was Miss Georgia 1985.

The two women became good friends the year they competed in Atlantic City and had agreed "If Miss America ever comes back to Atlantic City we're coming back," Demaline said. "Miss America and Atlantic City are synonymous. You don't think of one without the other."

Mohr said Miss Georgia Carly Mathis is definitely a contender.

Demaline wasn't quite ready to make a single pick among the 53 contestants.

"I think all the girls who are here have the potential to be Miss America," she said.

Both Demaline and Mohr have served as judges in state pageants.

"It's like the Super Bowl," Demaline said. "Either team can win."

What makes a Miss America?

Bernie Henn and Karl Holtzer, both of Pittsburgh, have it down to an acronym — POISE.

That stands for passionate, original, inspiring, smart and enthusiasm.

The longtime pageant fans were on the Boardwalk with Elisabeth Chramer, Miss Tennesse Valley, and her mother Valerie Chramer, both of Birmingham, Ala. They first met while attending Miss America in Las Vegas.

"When I cam to Boardwalk Hall (this time), I actually cried," Holtzer said of the memories the historic hall holds for him.

Collectively they had a variety of top picks, including the contestants from Alabama, California, Minnesota, Oklahoma , New York and North Carolina.

"This is a beautiful horse race," Henn said.

Elisabeth Chramer will compete for the Miss Alabama title next June. For her, the right Miss America is "someone who's real.'

Her mother added that the winner should be someone extraordinary.

"I want the heir or an elegant woman who can relate to ordinary people," she said.

Elisabeth Chramer put it simply: "You have to be an ordinary person who can do extraordinary things."

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:



Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.