When young women from two dozen Pierce County high schools gather Friday night for the Daffodil Festival Princess Promenade — their official debut as festival royalty — observers might notice something unusual.
There will be 24 schools represented during the ceremony in Puyallup, but 25 princesses will be introduced.
That’s because one high school, Emerald Ridge in Puyallup, was allowed to nominate two girls for the honor.
As far as anyone knows, it’s the first time in the festival’s 81-year history that has happened. The story of how and why it occurred is a tangled tale, one that Puyallup School District officials attribute to “an adult mistake” and an “irregularity” in judging.
The festival itself deemed the Emerald Ridge selection procedure a “flawed judging process” that won’t be allowed in the future.
Both the school district and the festival want to make clear the students involved are blameless. That’s why two Emerald Ridge seniors, Kiasa Sims and Marissa Modestowicz, will represent their school.
Both princesses say they’re happy to be part of the tradition and are glad to have a friend by their side as they rev up for a busy festival season.
“I’m stoked,” Kiasa said. “When I was a little girl, I told my parents that when I grow up, I want to be a princess.”
Marissa said she didn’t grow up watching the Daffodil Parade — a four-city extravaganza that winds through Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner and Orting. But she loves that the festival provides “a great way to get involved in your community.”
CONFUSION IN THE JUDGES’ RANKS
Involvement for both girls began Oct. 18, during an evening ceremony at their school. Only they and one other girl submitted applications to represent Emerald Ridge in the festival.
A judging panel made up of community members and district staff initially announced Marissa would represent the school. But behind that decision was a series of circumstances that led to uncertainty about which girl should rightly hold the title.
Most sources who spoke to the News Tribune about what went on behind the scenes asked to speak off the record. They said there were whisperings that the selection committee had discriminated against one of the candidates. There was apparent confusion about whether one girl had violated guidelines by going over the time limit for her speech.
On Oct. 23, according to an online post by student journalists from the school newspaper, The JagWire, Emerald Ridge Principal Karey Johnson released a statement to the student body that “mistakes were made by adults in this situation and when that happens, we own that and work to make it right.”
Johnson said judges had made a selection, then adjusted it after being informed of a disqualification. But later, according to the JagWire report, it turned out that Kiasa, the judges’ original choice, shouldn’t have been disqualified.
Both girls were informed that Kiasa would be reinstated as the princess.
“I was, like, what about Marissa?” Kiasa said.
Marissa called Kiasa and congratulated her.
Eventually, officials decided the only fair outcome was for both girls to represent Emerald Ridge.
The issue would not die. The school district conducted an investigation of the judging. The News Tribune asked for a copy of public records from the investigation; Puyallup school officials informed the newspaper that the only written document was a letter of reprimand issued to a teacher.
The teacher went to court to block release of the letter. In court filings, she said she believed the report she’d prepared for the principal would be kept confidential. Lawyers for the teacher and The News Tribune are scheduled to argue in court later this month whether the letter will be released.
UNPRECEDENTED, AND WON’T BE REPEATED
Having two girls represent one school didn’t sit well at first with Daffodil Festival organizers, who had to choose between accepting one girl, both, or starting the process over.
The festival has always allowed each high school to establish its own judging procedures. But that could change in the future, said executive director Steve James.
“The Daffodil Festival has been thrust into an extraordinary situation where we have now been presented with two valid candidates that came from a flawed judging process,” James said.
He said the festival decided to accept both Emerald Ridge candidates to remedy the mistakes made not by the girls, but by the adults.
“This is not a standard or a decision that will be duplicated,” he said.
James said one possible solution includes issuing schools a copy of the standardized scoring system that the festival employs when choosing the Daffodil Queen.
Despite the turmoil, both Kiasa and Marissa seem to have settled into their roles well.
“We got to know each other during the selection process,” said Marissa.
Added Kiasa: “I think it’s really cool that we both can do it together.”
What: Each of 25 princesses will take her turn in the spotlight Friday, receiving an official festival tiara, sash and golden daffodil. Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald of Puyallup will read a resolution naming them official ambassadors for the county.
They’ll be primed for a whirlwind Daffodil Festival season, which will include appearances by festival royalty at more than 220 events related to education, mentoring children and community service.
All tickets are gone for Friday’s event at Pioneer Park Pavilion.
What’s next: March 7, Daffodil Festival queen coronation; April 5, Daffodil Parade.
Schools represented: Bonney Lake, Bethel, Cascade Christian, Chief Leschi, Clover Park, Curtis, Eatonville, Emerald Ridge, Fife, Franklin Pierce, Graham-Kapowsin, Henry Foss, Lakes, Lincoln, Mt. Tahoma, Orting, Puyallup, Rogers, Spanaway Lake, Stadium, Sumner, Washington, White River, Wilson
More information: thedaffodilfestival.org or call 253-840-4194