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Phil Campbell’s Anna Benford wins watermelon crown

“I’m just really blessed that I was given the opportunity to do it and be in it with such beautiful ladies.”

That was Anna Benford’s reaction to being named the Watermelon Queen at Saturday’s Franklin County Watermelon Festival Beauty Pageant. 

A total of 59 girls from just a few months old to age 21 competed in this year’s pageant, which is an annual affair in Franklin County. Queens are named in each of nine age categories, along with the titles of first alternate, second alternate, best dress, prettiest smile, prettiest hair and most photogenic. 

As queen of the Miss Watermelon age category, 18-21, Phil Campbell’s Benford will preside at the Watermelon Festival in August and will also participate in the Russellville and Phil Campbell Christmas parades. 

“I was nervous because I honestly didn’t think I would be able to win because all the other girls were so pretty,” said Benford, 18, who graduated from Phil Campbell High School in May. “I was nervous, but I just had the mindset it was going to go one way or the other. I did my best, and whatever happens, happens.”

Benford said she was grateful to the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce – especially executive director Cassie Medley and executive assistant Susan Hall – for the opportunity and her family and friends for their support. 

Although some hopeful queens are career pageant participants, that’s not true for Benford. 

“The last time I did the Watermelon Pageant I was like 7,” said Benford, who can’t recall the experience. “I’m not really a pageant girl. I don’t do a whole lot of pageants; I just recently started doing them.”

Benford also won this year’s Dream Girl pageant at Phil Campbell, and she said she enjoys the experience of “getting dressed up and being able to wear pretty dresses and getting pictures made.”

Her dress selection for the Watermelon pageant was, as Benford termed it, “a funny story.”

“I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money,” said Benford, who will use the scholarship money she will receive at Northwest-Shoals Community College in the fall. She decided to ask one of her best friends Maddie, with whom she cheered at Phil Campbell, if she had a dress Benford could borrow – and she did. Benford paired the red gown with a sparkly belt she already owned, and her queenly outfit was complete. 

Of her competitors in the 18-21 category, Benford said she knew two of the three – she and Peyton Reynolds, who tied for second alternate with Allison Woods, work together, and she and first alternate Abby Swinney cheered together for one year at Phil Campbell. She said being acquainted with her fellow competitors made the experience a little more challenging. “I know their personalities, and I know how good of people they are,” Benford said. 

For Benford, daughter of Jed Benford and Dianna Lowery, both of Phil Campbell, there’s only one problem with being crowned Watermelon Queen: she’s not particularly fond of the juicy namesake fruit. Tasked, however, with cutting and tasting the first watermelon wedge at the annual festival, Benford is preparing to fulfill her royal duties in spite of her lack of love for melon. “I guess I’m just going to have to do it.”

These participants won the following titles at the Franklin County Watermelon Festival Beauty Pageant, held Saturday at Russellville City Schools Auditorium:

Baby Miss

0-11 months

  • Queen: Abigail Kelley
  • First alternate: Ryilee King
  • Second alternate: Willa Hood
  • Most photogenic: Sophia Johnson
  • Prettiest dress: Willa Hood
  • Prettiest hair: Sophia Johnson
  • Prettiest smile: Abigail Kelley

Wee Miss


  • Queen: Everleigh Simmons
  • First alternate: Evie Flanagan
  • Second alternate: Emma Dewberry
  • Most photogenic: Everleigh Simmons
  • Prettiest dress: Evie Flanagan
  • Prettiest hair: Nevaeh Copeland
  • Prettiest smile: Everleigh Simmons

Teeny Tot Miss


  • Queen: Ronin Flanagan
  • First alternate: Claudia Wilson
  • Second alternate: Isabella Sharpton
  • Most photogenic: Presley Robinson-Ikerd
  • Prettiest dress: Claudia Wilson
  • Prettiest hair: Caroline Shelnutt
  • Prettiest smile: Presley Robinson-Ikerd

Tiny Miss


  • Queen: Gabby Fernandez
  • First alternate: Madilynn McAfee
  • Second alternate: Lilly Parker
  • Most photogenic: Rhealin Richardson
  • Prettiest dress: Masie Bean
  • Prettiest hair: Journée Letson
  • Prettiest smile: Lilly Parker

Mini Miss


  • Queen: Ariel Cothrum
  • First alternate: Alaina Riley
  • Second alternate: Meagan Vinson-Ray
  • Most photogenic: Lorie Jo Herndon
  • Prettiest dress: Meagan Vinson-Ray
  • Prettiest hair: Ariel Cothrum
  • Prettiest smile: Alaina Riley

Little Miss


  • Queen: Ruby Harbin
  • First alternate: Gracie Williams
  • Second alternate: Delilah Landers
  • Most photogenic: Ruby Harbin
  • Prettiest dress: Ruby Harbin
  • Prettiest hair: Ruby Harbin
  • Prettiest smile: Kloe Coronado

Tween Miss


  • Queen: Aaliyah Prince
  • First alternate: Baker Franklin
  • Second alternate: AnnaFaye Prince and Kendell McCaig
  • Most photogenic: AnnaFaye Prince
  • Prettiest dress: Baker Franklin
  • Prettiest hair: Aaliyah Prince
  • Prettiest smile: AnnaFaye Prince

Teen Miss


  • Queen: Lauren Sturdivant
  • First alternate: Olivia Nunley
  • Second alternate: Katie Thomas
  • Most photogenic: Lauren Sturdivant
  • Prettiest dress: Lauren Sturdivant
  • Prettiest hair: Katie Thomas
  • Prettiest smile: Katie Thomas



  • Queen: Anna Benford
  • First alternate: Abby Swinney
  • Second alternate: Peyton Reynolds and Allison Woods
  • Most photogenic: Anna Benford
  • Prettiest dress: Peyton Reynolds
  • Prettiest hair: Abby Swinney
  • Prettiest smile: Abby Swinney