Crowing confidence: Local pageant winner stands up to bullying

Clearview eighth grader Shelby Ritterson crowned first-ever Miss Veterans Day’s Outstanding Teen

Photo courtesy of Richard Krauss

Shelby Ritterson, 13, won her first pageant as Miss Little Peach 2009 when she was 5 years old at the annual Gloucester County 4-H Fair. This year, the Clearview Middle School eighth-grader was crowned as the first-ever Miss Veterans Day’s Outstanding Teen, a title that will bring her to the state pageant on Jan. 27 where she will compete for the title of Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen against young women ages 13 to 17 from across the state.

The Miss Veterans Day’s Outstanding Teen, a division of the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen system, was introduced for the first time at the Miss Ocean County pageant held at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven on Nov. 5. Teens were considered for the crown by six judges in categories such as interview, evening gown and on-stage question, talent and fitness. Along with earning the crown title, Ritterson also tied for the evening gown, where she was able to speak on her platform Stand Up, Stand Out, and talent, where she performed a choreographed tap routine. Ritterson also took first place in the Quality of Life competition, which is comprised of a separate panel of judges who review an essay on how the participant has made a difference with their chosen platform.

“People constantly put people down and say they’re not good enough; that hurts your self-acceptance,” Ritterson said. “There’s nothing you can do to be people’s favorite person. If you’re happy with who you are, no one can take that away from you.”

Through her platform Stand Up, Stand Out, Ritterson hopes to help people garner a sense of individuality and self-confidence. Ritterson aspires to read books such as “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen to children throughout the school district to demonstrate confidence and self-worth.

“I was bullied a lot from first to sixth grade and it would really get to me. When you’re younger, it’s hard to understand why people are like that, but as you get older, you realize how certain personalities don’t connect with others; maybe they are having issues at their house or with their friends,” Ritterson said. “I want to make sure everyone knows there is always going to be someone there for them, no matter how much it might seem like there isn’t.”

Ritterson also plans to share with students throughout the district her memory box, made of postcards from places she has been and mementos from all of the things she has done.

“If you’re having a bad day, you can go into it and see all of the fun things you’ve done with all of the people who care about you,” Ritterson said.

Community service is also important to Ritterson as a way to create a more connected and close-knit community. Recently, Ritterson volunteered as an elf at Lights on Main on Saturday, Nov. 25, while she has also volunteered her time with the Township of Harrison summer camps, as well as brings donuts to the police station, books to doctors’ offices and hosts talent shows at local nursing homes.

“She does little things but they all add up,” said Karen Wagner, Ritterson’s mom. “If everyone did little things it would make it a lot better.”

Aside from pageants, Ritterson also performed in the Clearview Regional High School fall play “A Christmas Carol,” and plans to audition for the school’s spring musical, “The Little Mermaid.” Ritterson is also in her 12th year of dance, focusing on tap, musical theater and jazz-funk. At one time, she said she was taking 13 classes a week, including ballet, hip-hop, Hawaiian, lyrical, pointe and more. Additionally, Ritterson was a member of the Philadelphia Junior Soulmates, the dancers and cheerleaders for the Philadelphia Soul football team.

“Being on stage so much really sets you up for so many opportunities in life,” Ritterson said. “You’re more confident in who you are after you’re surrounded by that environment; with people who are constantly lifting you up, you really find yourself and know the type of person you want to be.”

Ritterson will hold the title of Miss Veterans Day’s Outstanding Teen for one year, and hopes during her time she will have the chance to inspire younger girls who may want the same opportunity when they get older.

“I’m really proud I got this far, especially at such a young age. Being able to influence my peers and my community, it motivates me to do better in everything I do because there are people looking up to me,” Ritterson said. “It’s about who you are as a person; it’s so much more than just the crown. You wear the crown; the crown doesn’t wear you.”

Through the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen system, which focuses on the four points of the crown — scholarship, service, style and success — Ritterson, along with her fellow contestants, is required to raise $250 for the Children’s Miracle Network by Jan. 6. Donations are accepted online at www.maoteen4kids.org.

The Miss New Jersey’s Outstanding Teen pageant is scheduled for Jan. 27, at the Clayton Performing Arts Center in Clayton. Tickets are $35 general admission and can be purchased through www.showtix4u.com, or call (866) 967–8167. For more information, visit www.missnewjersey.net/miss-new-jerseys-outstanding-teen.