Two locals compete in Miss New Jersey pageant this week

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Devon Vanderslice, Sarah Ford Devon Vanderslice, Sarah Ford OCEAN CITY — Two dozen contestants have arrived for a whirlwind week of practice, preliminaries and fun, culminating with the crowning of Miss New Jersey at the historic Ocean City Music Pier on Saturday, June 14.

Two of the contestants, Ocean City’s Devon Vanderslice and Sarah Ford of Seaville, don’t have far to travel, and they are familiar with the venue. Vanderslice, a 2011 Ocean City High School graduate and Ford, a 2012 OCHS graduate, have competed and won crowns on the stage in past. Vanderslice, the reigning Miss Eastern Shore, was crowned Miss Ocean City 2013 at the Music Pier. Ford, the reigning Miss Cape May County, won her crown last August.

Both competed in the Little and Junior Miss Ocean City crowns at the Music Pier – Vanderslice was crowned Junior Miss in 2008; Ford was crowned Little Miss in 2007 and Junior Miss in 2009 - and both say they are excited to compete again on their home turf.

“I’m so pumped,” said Vanderslice. “Living here makes it even more special.”

The 21 year-old senior at West Chester State College works at Del’s on the boardwalk, a stone’s throw from the Music Pier.

“I run on the boardwalk every morning, and it’s really motivated me, every time I run past I count down the days,” she said. “I’ve danced on that stage before, so I feel comfortable and confident. It’s been my dream to be in the Miss America Pageant since I was a little girl. To have the opportunity to compete in Miss New Jersey on my hometown stage is very exciting.”

“It’s very special, it’s kind of cool to come full circle, back on the stage,” said Ford, adding that she looks at it as an opportunity to take a week off from being a local. “I never get to act as a tourist in Ocean City; it’s going to be fun!”

The contestants are housed at the Forum Inn for the week, and will dine out at numerous local eateries between pageant practice and primping. On the agenda is Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, where Ford works.

“We go to Uncle Bill’s for breakfast, everyone is teasing me that they are going to ask me to serve coffee if they get busy while we’re there,” she said.  Ford, 19 and a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, said she looks forward to all of the activities.

Both danced at the Dance Place under the guidance of Mary Beth Snow and will perform jazz dances for their talent.

“I was so excited when Devon won, it’s going to be fun,” said Ford, who will dance to “It’s Oh So Quiet,” by Bjork.

“It starts out slow and picks up, it has a lot of character to it,” she said.

Vanderslice will dance to “Think,” originally recorded by Aretha Franklin, with what Vanderslice said is a funky Blues Brothers twist.

“It’s upbeat and lively, a lot more fun,” said Vanderslice. 

For Vanderslice, the platform portion of the pageant is very meaningful. Hers is “Donate the gift of life,” in honor of her 17 year-old first cousin, Coby Lefkowitz, a long time Ocean City summer resident. A standout basketball player on his high school team, Lefkowitz is one of six children born to Vanderslice’s aunt, Coco Vanderslice Lefkowitz. Coby, a quadruplet and senior in high school being recruited by Ivy League schools to play basketball, had only one kidney and it was only 20 percent functioning.

His mother was a match, and in April she donated a kidney to her son.

“Six weeks to the day he went to his senior prom,” said Vanderslice. “Coby is what sparked my interest in organ donation. My Aunt Coco was a perfect match, just think, she gave life to him twice, once at birth and again with a kidney.”

She is  a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Sharing Network.

“In New Jersey, only 32 percent of the people who could donate have signed up to do so and that’s really low. Our goal is to encourage more people to donate organs.

“One organ saves eight lives,” she said. “My goal is to raise awareness, to double the number of organ donations each year.”

Ford’s platform is “Smile Save, healing through hospital volunteerism.”

“I’ve been a volunteer for a number of years,” said Ford. Volunteering doesn’t have to be in the hospital, she said, as there are many ways to assist patients.

“You can brighten their day with a card, I have been going into schools, and we make cards,” she said.

The cards have been sent by the hundreds to local hospitals and nursing homes.

“Anything we can do to bring a smile,” she said.

Both have practiced daily for many years to make it to this point, dancing, community service and succeeding academically. 

“It’s been my dream to be Miss America since I was a little girl,” said Vanderslice. “I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to compete. I have loved everything about Miss America, it’s what I wanted to get into for years.”

Vanderslice, the daughter of Dawn and Harry Vanderslice, said her large extended family, including siblings Disston, Taylor and Cole, will be there to cheer her on.

“They will probably be the loudest ones in the audience,” she said. “They keep me on my toes.”

Leading the cheers will be her “Paparazzi,” her 90 year-old grandfather Nick Impagliazzo, taking pictures, and grandmother, Marty Vanderslice. 

Ford, the daughter of Harry and Cindy Ford, will have her own entourage, which will include her 15 year-old sister, Sadie, a former Little Miss Ocean City.

“I enjoy performing,” said Ford. “I love the Miss America Pageant, I love the fact that it and the state pageants include a platform and academics, that you can compete for scholarships.

“I enjoy being on the stage in any form. It’s going to be fun, competing with all of the other girls. We’ve all become friends; we share a common interest, we love pageants and we have similar goals. It’s all girlie and it’s going to be fun.”

Vanderslice said the Miss America Pageant “empowers young women.” She said she can’t wait to immerse herself in the pageant festivities, surrounded by like-minded contestants.

“It’s a cause we all believe in,” she said. “I know I would do an awesome job as Miss New Jersey, and I’m so excited to compete. I’m ready for it to begin!” 


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