MOUNT VERNON — For the first time since 1987, a Knox County Junior Miss has been named Ohio’s Junior Miss. Yelena Arishina of Centerburg, Greater Knox County’s Junior Miss, will represent Ohio throughout 2009 and in the America’s Junior Miss competition in Mobile, Ala., in June.
The OJM first runner-up is Atley Thompson, Stark County’s Junior Miss. Second runner-up is Stephanie Sparks, Southern Scioto County’s Junior Miss, and the two program finalists are Erika Blake of Central Licking County and Kate Dowrey of Warren County.
Arishina said she was surprised to be chosen.
“I had no idea,” she said while cameras flashed around her. “It could have been any of the girls. I just hope I can represent all the wonderful moments we have had together. I’m ecstatic, and very honored.”
Her parents, Marina Arishina and Greg Myers of Centerburg, were less surprised but no less delighted than their daughter.
“It’s very exciting,” said Marina Arishina, “but we’re proud of all the girls. Helen [the name Yelena’s family and fellow Centerburg High School students call her] is a hard worker. She worked very hard.”
“This is a great program,” said Myers. “It’s great that Helen could be part of it. We’re very proud of her, and I think she’ll do Ohio proud.”
The newly crowned OJM performed “Solfeggio” by C.P.E. Bach on the piano for her talent performance. She plans to attend George Washington University to study international business and relations. Yelena also won one of two interview awards and one of two self-expression awards in the OJM program. Her parents told how their daughter ran the Barack Obama campaign in Milford and Hilliar townships in advance of the November election.
The Saturday evening portion of the OJM program is traditionally lavish with entertainment by former and current Junior Misses. Lauren Gessner, 2008 OJM, performed several songs, and welcomed her former roommate from the 2008 AJM competition, the reigning 2008 America’s Junior Miss, Lindsey Brinton, who is also Utah’s Junior Miss. Brinton is studying biochemical engineering at Harvard University with the scholarships she received in the Junior Miss programs. A pianist and ballet dancer, she has performed on five continents and in Carnegie Hall, and gave an impressive, athletic performance of “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6” by Franz Liszt that earned her a spontaneous standing ovation from the audience.
The OJM contestants’ host fathers escorted their host daughters onto the stage, where they received the girls’ appreciation. Mistress of ceremonies Dana Ullom-Vucelich called it “an OJM tradition, a special moment,” and related a comment she heard from one host dad: “I find this even more exciting than basketball playoffs.”
Ullom-Vucelich said the nationwide AJM program has more than 17,000 volunteers. Noting Knox County’s enthusiastic participation, she said, “But sometimes I feel like 16,000 of them are right here in Mount Vernon.”
Yelena Arishina will compete with the 49 other state Junior Misses in the America’s Junior Miss program, June 25 to 27.
Thompson and Nikki Lindsey of Southern Lawrence County won fitness awards. Dowrey also won self-expression awards and interview awards.
The 1987 OJM, Mary Kim Elkins, was in Mount Vernon during the week of the competition. Until Yelena’s win, Elkins was the most recent Knox County OJM. She and her husband, David Greenspan, sponsored the talent awards, and also provided designer jeans for the 29 contestants. The talent awards went to Stephanie Sparks of Southern Scioto County and Thompson.
Scholastic awards were presented to Jessica Williams of Vinton County, Hope Brill of Mount Vernon, who represents Central Knox County, and Dowrey. The overall scholastic award went to Katie Yates of northern Lucas County.