FHSU University Relations and Marketing
By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
HAYS, Kan. — Kelsey Cohoon learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected.
A Fort Hays State University sophomore from Jetmore, Cohoon started dancing at age 2 and has been involved in cheerleading since seventh grade. One of the stunters on the FHSU cheer squad who does flying leaps as part of her routine, Cohoon knows she always has to be on her toes. One slip-up by her or her base could prove dangerous.
But nothing could have prepared Cohoon for an unforeseen happening on the first Saturday of the new year. Cohoon, who will turn 20 in March, received a New Year’s surprise when she was crowned Miss Cowboy Capital at a scholarship pageant in Dodge City on Jan. 2.
With that title, Cohoon advances to the Miss Kansas Pageant in June in Pratt. It will be the second consecutive year that an FHSU student will participate in Miss Kansas. Dakota Derstein from Dodge City was crowned Miss Dodge City a year ago.
The crowning was “totally unexpected” for Cohoon because this was her first pageant. Well, the first one she could remember, that is. Her mom, Christina Cohoon, had entered her firstborn in a Toddlers and Tiaras Pageant when Kelsey was about 18 months old.
“I’ve seen pictures of it,” Cohoon said. “But I don’t remember it at all.”
No doubt she will remember her second pageant.
Cohoon’s dance teacher, Nikki Salem from Dodge City, is a board member of the Miss Dodge City/Miss Cowboy Capital Scholarship Pageant. She works backstage at the pageant and has urged Cohoon to participate the past two years.
“She’s always been a performer,” said Salem, Cohoon’s dance teacher since Cohoon was a toddler. “She’s never been afraid of the stage. She has this poise and calmness about her. If she is nervous, she can hold it together.”
Knowing there could be some money for college involved, Cohoon, a speech-language pathology major, finally consented to participate this year.
“This was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” said Cohoon, who didn’t decide until she was back in Hays in college last fall that she would throw her name in the hat to compete. “I did it for the scholarships.”
After going through the various competitions — talent, fitness, evening gown, interview — Cohoon thought she had the top three or four girls picked out.
“After seeing the girls in the competition, I thought, ” ‘I am not going to win this,’ ” she said, “but I thought I would just do it for fun and just be myself.”
“This year’s 10 performers were pretty amazing,” Salem said. “I remember thinking, ‘I sure wouldn’t want to be a judge this year.’ ”
Before revealing the names of the Miss Cowboy Capital and Miss Dodge City in the dual pageant, an overall second runner-up and first runner-up are announced. After those two names were revealed and just before the announcement of Miss Cowboy Capital, Cohoon said, “I was thinking, ‘OK, who else is there?’ ”
That, Kelsey Cohoon, would be you.
“They called my name,” she said, “and I didn’t even know how to react.”
“I was thrilled,” Salem said. “It was very refreshing to think someone like Kelsey will be representing us at Miss Kansas.”
Cohoon earned a $100 scholarship for participating and another $500 for winning. Now, it’s on to the next step.
The Miss Kansas Pageant is scheduled for June 5-11 in Pratt, and Cohoon now has more responsibilities added to an already busy college schedule.
In addition to cheering for Tiger athletic events, Cohoon is a member of a social sorority on campus, volunteers for various community organizations and is involved in fundraising for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I did everything in high school,” said Cohoon, who participated in numerous sports at Hodgeman County High, in addition to cheering both for her school and on a competitive traveling cheer squad. “So I thought I might as well fill up my college life, too.”
Cohoon is accomplishing that with ease. She will make some appearances at civic events in Dodge City this semester, and she plans to try out for the Universal Cheerleading Association staff and teach youngsters at cheer camps this summer. Oh, and there’s that task of preparing for the Miss Kansas Pageant, where her platform will be “Positive Body Image.” Of course, her talent number will be a ballet dance.
The first person to introduce Cohoon to pageants all those years ago will be with her daughter every step of the way.
“I’m a little nervous,” Christina Cohoon said, “but I’m excited.”
The Cohoons won’t have far to look to ask for pointers about getting ready for Miss Kansas. There’s Derstein they can call on, and Cohoon’s cousin, Whitney Winter from Dodge City, was the 2015 Miss Cowboy Capital and got to crown Cohoon the 2016 winner.
“I’m going to get together with Dakota’s mom and get some advice,” Cohoon’s mom said. “We’re all really proud of her already. So whatever happens there will be OK. The whole preparation thing will be a lot of fun.”