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Thames: We celebrate what is good in youth'

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
July 22, 2002
On Sunday, 37 of the most talented and scholastically high-achieving young ladies in the state will converge on Meridian for the Mississippi Junior Miss program.
During the following week the girls will make public appearances and spend much of their time rehearsing and preparing for the state program at the Temple Theatre on Aug. 1-3.
Annual Program Chairman Hampton Thames of Meridian spoke with The Meridian Star's editorial board recently about the Junior Miss organization.
The Meridian Star: What do you think the economic advantages are for Meridian because we have the state Junior Miss program in our city?
Hampton Thames: Out of the 37 girls, I would say most of their families will come to Meridian and stay three nights. And the gifts come all day. I've had a couple of florists say it's their second biggest day of the year one even said it's larger than Valentines. So I know the area gift shops surely experience a boom. And then you've got the T-shirt and souvenir vendors.
It would be interesting to see exact figures, there are probably a lot of avenues of economic impact that we haven't even thought about.
The Star: Is there anything different about the program this year?
Thames: Yes, thanks to the generosity of BrainStorm, The Medical Store and Dr. Mark Phillips, we have added overall talent, poise and fitness awards which will be $500 each.
We are still working on other avenues to increase our scholarship money. This year, we have created a scholarship foundation, a true 501(c)(3), that will provide a tax deduction to people who contribute. I think that will open up more avenues.
Our show provides a certain amount of money. There is no way we can do more without cutting the show back or charging $50 a ticket which we don't want to do. We are right where we need to be on ticket prices. We need to do like nationals do, look to people to give money to the scholarship foundation and receive a tax writeoff.
The Star: What are the advantages to the girls who participate in Junior Miss?
Thames: We want to celebrate what is good in youth. This program rewards excellence and commitment. We reward that by recognizing them on stage and providing them the ability to continue their education.
We are celebrating for three nights what's right in Mississippi's high school senior girls. These are some of the most talented girls in the state. To me, Meridian is extremely lucky to have the program here. A lot of times when everyone is out there wondering what new things can we get to come to Meridian, they forget about the things that have made Meridian what it is.
When we've passed all the money around, more than half of the girls will go home with just the experience. But the experience of coming, not to mention the individual growth learning about themselves in a competition setting away from home they learn so much about about themselves.
The Star: How can the community get involved?
Thames: We have more than 120 volunteers including host families and drivers that come together for the love of the program.
The annual program committee of the state Junior Miss handles the week's activities. We also have a board of directors that oversees the local franchises throughout the state. If anyone wants to get involved during the week of the state program they can contact me. We start planning for the state program in January.
Thames can be contacted at hthames@msjrmiss.com.
The Star: Where do the judges for the program come from?
Thames: No judges come from Mississippi. We have five judges one from Boston, who is a former Florida's Junior Miss. We have a male judge coming for Virginia with more than 40 years of judging experience. Two from Kentucky, and a judge from Arkansas who was Arkansas's Junior Miss in 1988. To keep things fair, judges can not participate more than two years in a row.
The Star: You've been involved with the Junior Miss organization since 1988 and this is your third year as annual program chairman. How have you seen Junior Miss grow over the years?
Thames: From the sheer numbers of locals that we've had. The only state that has more girls in the program is Alabama and they're at 41. Over the last seven or eight years our dollars (scholarship money) have grown from $10,000 to $23,500.
The Star: Explain the difference between local and at-large programs?
Thames: Locals are continuing programs in a community. Individuals or organizations in different communities obtain a local franchise from the state Junior Miss organization. The biggest advantage to having a local program is so that girls in the ninth grade know there is going to be a Junior Miss program when they get to the 11th grade.
At-large programs are girls who contact us who want to participate in Junior Miss. They should not be held at an disadvantage because someone in their city has not gotten together to create a program.
What we do is, one time a year, we have an at-large program. The girls come to Meridian and participate in a competition at Lamar School. We set minimum standards for the girls to participate.