When Kaitlyn Schoeffel was asked why South Jersey seems to always dominate the Miss New Jersey pageant, she laughed and responded that it must be something in the water.
But the reason goes much deeper than that, according to local pageant experts.
Schoeffel, of Egg Harbor Township, was crowned the 10th Miss New Jersey from South Jersey in the past 15 years last week. In this year’s pageant, 19 of the 28 contestants came from the state’s southern region. Pageants in North Jersey have been steadily dropping off, leaving South and Central Jersey to pick up the slack and produce candidates for the annual competition.
“The northern pageant system used to dominate years ago,” said Rosanna Consalvo-Sarto, executive director of the Miss Columbus Day pageant. “About 10 years ago it flipped to Central and South Jersey. I don’t know the reason behind that, honestly.”
Consalvo-Sarto, along with her sister Giulietta Consalvo, run the Bonnie Blue Foundation in memory of their mother, Francesa “Bonnie” Consalvo. The foundation currently runs the Miss Columbus Day and Miss Atlantic County pageants.
Bonnie Consalvo, who died in 2004, ran the Miss Columbus Day pageant for 37 years and worked with Suzette Charles, the last Miss New Jersey to become Miss America, during her run to the crown in 1984.
Charles won the Miss Columbus Day title before becoming Miss New Jersey.
Both Consalvo and Sarto said that they have seen a dramatic change in the Miss New Jersey Competition over the years.
Sally Johnston, executive director of Miss New Jersey, said pageants in North Jersey fell off when Miss America opened up the rules on who could compete in a particular pageant.
A contestant used to have to live, work or go to school in a particular county to compete in the local pageants. Now, the pageants are more wide open. Because most directors of local pageants live in South Jersey, the pageants in North Jersey started to disappear.
But Johnston said the organization is actively working to bring pageants back to central and northern counties.
“My goal is to make this a state pageant,” she said. “We’re looking for more county pageants, and we would really like to see some colleges host pageants as well.”
New Jersey used to have a Miss Rutgers University in the Miss New Jersey pageant, she said.
As pageants in the northern part of the state began to drop off, contestants started coming down and competing in south and central pageants.
But the reduction in pageants up north has coincided with Miss hax New Jersey being less competitive in the Miss America pageant. Miss New Jersey has not placed in the top 15 at Miss America since Jennifer Farrell in 2003.
Sarto said part of that is because New Jersey isn’t a “sash state,” or a state that makes pageant’s a high priority with sponsorships and generations of training.
Sash states are the ones that produce,” she said. “There’s about 10 of them; You have people there who are pageant addicts… it’s 24-hours-a-day pageantry.
Sarto said that Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and California, among others, are considered “sash states.” New Jersey started to lose some sponsorships in the 1990s, she said.
“When you look at the gifts Miss New Jersey gets now compared to 10-15 years ago, it’s completely different,” she said.