Puyallup Herald

She started a pageant for girls with disabilities. Now, this former Puyallup student is watching it grow

Little by little, more and more people are taking notice of a local pageant.

Miss Exceptional, created by Rogers High School graduate Sami Schubert in 2015 with the Exceptional Families Network, recognizes girls with disabilities by giving them a platform to be themselves and develop their self-confidence.

And every year, it grows.

“I kind of see it like a vine,” Schubert said. “It’s kind of just spreading slowly. So we’re just hoping it spreads to other states so we can make it a bigger thing.”

This year, the Miss Exceptional pageant will take place three months earlier, on Sept. 22. Previously, the pageant was held in December.

The Miss Exceptional 2017 Titleholders, back to front, left to right: Miss Exceptional Teen Queen Mandy, Miss Exceptional Junior Queen Leslie, Miss Exceptional Supreme Queen Jessalyn, Miss Exceptional Lil Supreme Eden, Miss Exceptional Petite Queen Jadeyn, Miss Exceptional Little Queen Miley, and Miss Exceptional Supreme Sweetheart Laylah. Special Portraits (Crystal Amber Photography) Courtesy

The change was made mostly for Miss Exceptional winners, who’ll be able to hold their 2018 titles a little while longer.

But the change in the pageants location from Victorian Country Christmas to Tacoma Community College is also worthy of notice.

“We realized that our venue needed to change so that we could have a bigger space for the girls to get ready and to feel comfortable in,” Schubert said. “A lot of the girls have sensory disorders, and being in small spaces that are loud and things like that cause problems. We want the contestants to be really comfortable.”

The pageant will use TCC’s stage and have a playroom for contestants to sit down and breathe if needed. Schubert wants to add a nonverbal segment to the pageant for contestants who struggle to speak on stage, in addition to an improvised interview for those who do wish to speak.

“Everyone said that was their favorite part,” she said. “So I’m trying to incorporate an interview portion of Miss Exceptional so the judges can get to know them better.”

Last year, the pageant caught the interest of KOMO 4’s Eric Johnson, who did a five-minute Eric’s Heroes segment on Schubert and Miss Exceptional, recognizing its work as a nonprofit.

The pageant also caught the interest of Philanthropic Education Organization, which supports the success of women through grants and scholarships.

“An organization came to us and said we found your article in the newspaper and we think we should give Miss Exceptional (contestants) scholarships,” Schubert said. “We’re hoping to have scholarships for the contestants for next year.”

In April, Schubert was crowned Miss Eastside, landing a spot in Miss America's Miss Washington pageant. She’ll be one of 25 contestants competing for the title at the end of June.

Samantha Schubert (Miss Eastside 2018) being crowned by Nicole Renard (Miss Washington 2017) on April 8, 2018. Keith Krueger Courtesy

“It’s a big milestone… When I won Miss Eastside it was the first title that I’ve won since I was 14,” Schubert said. “So it was really rewarding to actually get the title after so many years of trying.”

Her platform? Miss Exceptional, of course.

“My platform is really appreciated,” Schubert said. “The fact I kind of made it my own is kind of impressive to some people...There’s only one Miss Exceptional, so they have a lot of questions usually.”

Now, Schubert is preparing for the Miss Washington pageant. If she wins Miss Washington, she’ll move on to compete in Miss America in September, which is broadcast nationally.

She’s also busy with school. Schubert attends Eastern Washington University online and studies child development. One day, she wants to be a child life specialist.

“A child life specialist is basically a play therapist that works with kids emotionally to make sure that they’re comfortable understanding what the procedures are if they just got diagnosed (for example), with cancer,” Schubert said.

But Schubert is sticking with her work with Miss Exceptional, too.

“I’m really hoping that over the years it grows,” Schubert said. “When we hit a breaking point we’re hoping to spread it to other states.”

Those interested in participating in the 2018 Miss Exceptional pageant can learn more and apply at missexceptional.org.

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison