direct from the Eastern Shore.

The winner of the Fifth Annual Miss Howard County Scholarship Pageant, crowned two weeks ago at Howard High School, is Mia Johnson of Cambridge.

Her first runner-up traveled even farther -- Penny Austin lives in Salisbury.

Truth be told, the winners and first and second runners-up of previous pageants weren't Howard County residents either.

In fact, what makes this pageant particularly notable is that it marks the first time in Howard's pageant history that a countian ever won anything. Jill Johnson of Glenelg was voted second runner-up.

Another coup for the local pageant is that three of the 11 contestants live in Howard.

That's a major showing, considering that in three previous competitions, only one local was featured per pageant and in1988 not one of the contestants for Miss Howard County had anything to do with Howard County.

Nor are contestants necessarily from Maryland. Last year's winner, Tiffanie Varchulik, hails from Pennsylvania.

"I know it sounds odd, but it's not at all unusual," said county pageant director Nancy Shire, a former pageant winner. "I was Miss Garrett County in 1984, and I lived in Allegheny County.

Because the contests are "open," Shire explained, participants need only live,work or attend school in Maryland.

The problem, she said, is thatnot enough countians enter the pageant, which is the preliminary forthe Miss Maryland Pageant in June, which is the preliminary for the Miss America Pageant in September.

Charles Skinner, state executive director of the Miss Maryland Pageant for the last 14 years, agreed.

"In a lot of locals (pageants) that happens. A majority of our 24 pageants is open. It's so standard and commonplace, we don't even keep records (of which contestants are competing from outside counties)," he said.

Even winners of Miss Maryland State Pageants did not live in Maryland.

"In the last 15 years, we had a woman from New York and one from Kentucky," said Skinner. "Because they are students in our state, we're delighted to have them."

Shire, a resident of Elkridge, said she secretly roots for one of Howard's own.

"I was hoping one of the county girls would win," she said. "We think if we can get a girl from Howard, she can represent the county better. The county itself would support it more."

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