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Story Last modified at 3:08 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mission: Mr. and Miss Bear Paw
Pageant a showcase of hidden talents

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:News

Miss Bear Paw 2011 Johna Rutz and Mr. Bear Paw Kody Trombley pose for pictures after being crowned Bear Paw King and Queen at a pageant held July 7 at the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High School.

He's a brainy jock with a musician's soul. She's a beautiful computer expert and master of foreign languages.

They're Operation Bear Paw's spy kids – and they're not alone.

Smooth moves

You could say Johna Rutz, 16, has lofty goals. After graduating from high school next fall, Rutz wants to attend Yale University, where she hopes to major in computer science. And psychology. And minor in Russian. And Chinese.

"It's a lot," the lifelong Eagle River resident admitted shortly after winning the coveted title of Miss Bear Paw at a pageant held Thursday, July 7 at the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High.

Rutz's crowning by 2010 winner JoEllen Walters was the final highlight of an evening dedicated to showcasing some of the area's best, brightest and bravest young people in a music- and dance-filled extravaganza fit for the USO.

The evening began with a quick briefing from "Commander" Pete Mulcahy (dressed in fatigues), who roused the large crowd with a series of enthusiastic words and grunts before giving way to this year's pageant participants. The 16 teenagers surprised the crowd by rushing the stage dressed in a variety of military costumes, then busting into a 40s-style dance number to the tune of the Andrews Sisters' classic "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

Rutz may have helped distinguish herself for the pageant's judges during the early routine. She and dance partner Forrest Campnell were front and center, finishing with a flourish as Campnell expertly tossed his partner to one side before bringing Rutz back to rest on his knee at the number's conclusion.

Following the pageant, Rutz credited Campnell's slick moves with helping her win the pageant.

"I couldn't have done it without my escort," she said.

Sneaky smart

Kody Trombley did his part to stand out to the crowd in the dance routine by doing his best to hide.

Trombley, who will be a senior at Chugiak High this fall, performed in a full (only his eyes showed through) camouflage disguise that left the audience giggling after the music stopped. But shortly afterward, Trombley let it be known that his candidacy for the Mr. Bear Paw title was no laughing matter when he gave one of the more thoughtful answers during the question-and-answer portion of the pageant.

photo:News

Contestant Bre Bhangu won first prize in the costume contest for her homemade salmon outfit, which she created from old scraps of carpet.

When asked by 2010 king Gary Lee how he deals with juggling a number of different activities, Trombley – an accomplished trumpet player who is also one of the Chugiak football team's top linemen – said he always remembers that education comes first.

"I've learned it's really important to keep your priorities straight," Trombley said. "School really does matter more than sports or extracurricular activities."

In the end, Trombley beat out a field of five other male competitors for the Mr. Bear Paw title and a $1,000 scholarship from the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation. Campnell was named Bear Paw Prince.

Blake Rinckey won the $500 GCI award for community service.

Trombley said he wants to attend Central Washington University, and would love it if he could continue playing football. But he said football doesn't last forever, and plans to focus on his true love.

"I'm a music guy," he said.

It beats working

For winning her title, Rutz won a $1,000 scholarship from the Sleeping Lady Lions. She also got to ride in the Bear Paw parade and make special appearances throughout the festival wearing the coveted Miss Bear Paw sash.

Maggie Wallace, who also won the $500 Sleeping Lady Lions scholarship for Outstanding Community Service, was named Bear Paw Princess.

Rutz, who has traveled to Russia twice, said she speaks "a little" Russian and hardly any Chinese. But she's willing to learn, and figures the scholarship money will help her get a bit closer to her goals.

"It's going to be used well," she said.

Rutz has been attending Bear Paw as long as she can remember, and said the main reason she entered the pageant – other than the chance at some college loot – was because she knew contestants would be making special appearances at the festival all weekend long.

"I was just in this for the fun – and the Teddy Bear Picnic," she said.

Rutz actually had to take a week off work as a summer intern in the drafting department at CH2MHill in Anchorage, and said winning the pageant will make it a lot easier to go back to work.

"My boss will be very pleased," she said.

Recycled salmon

In addition to the question-and-answer session and musical routine, the female contestants also competed in an evening gown and costume competition – the latter of which drew some of the biggest cheers of the evening as the girls paraded in front of the judges and crowd dressed up as iconic Alaskan scenes.

Rutz dressed as a giant cabbage, while Wallace wore a trash can painted with the three Alaska seasons – winter, breakup and construction. Christina Sanchez was a walking Alaska flag, Daylie Hislop dressed as a dog sled, Irene Sexton was the midnight sun, Hannah Ferguson was a bundled-up Alaska trick-or-treater, Elizabeth Stevens turned herself into Alaska wildflowers, Victoria Jones was the aurora and Regina Lochner came as an Alaska Bush pilot — and plane.

Bre Bhangu won the event with a salmon costume made of spray-painted scraps.

"My grandma had some 15-year-old carpet laying around," Bhangu said of her creation, which drew admiring stares even after people began filing into the parking lot after the pageant.

Other winners in the pageant were Taylor Andrews, who won the Mr. Congeniality award, and Ferguson, who took home Miss Congeniality.

Best and brighest

Following the pageant, the contestants – who also included Travis White and Alek Rentz – spent the rest of the Bear Paw festival helping out. They handed out hundreds of hot dogs at the Teddy Bear Picnic and buckets of ice cream at the ice cream eating contest. In between, they served as ambassadors for the festival, an army of 16 willing to put themselves up on stage for the entire weekend.

Pageant organizer Nancy Wallace said that's the type of kids who usually enlist in the event.

"They are delightful, they are creative and they are willing to do whatever I asked of them," Wallace said.

And while the group was technically fighting over a bit of scholarship money, Johna Rutz said she sensed no hint of animosity from her fellow troops during the pageant.

"It's not at all like you see on TV," she said. "We were all friends. You should have seen us all backstage doing each other's hair."

Mr. Bear Paw agreed.

"We didn't all know each other very well, but at the end we were all friends," Trombley said.

Trombley said he was initially skeptical about entering the Bear Paw Pageant. At first, he and a couple other buddies were going to enter, but he said they chickened out. But he wasn't about to quit the mission. One which, in the end, proved to be quite possible.

"I guess the joke's on them," he said.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.