Every June, girls from across the state of Kansas travel to our small community with the goal of becoming the next Miss Kansas. Hosting the “Pageant” as we locals call it, is an honor the Pratt community has held for almost 65 years.

Pageant week is full of community events, volunteer responsibilities, preliminary competitions, youth programs, late night socials, a parade and the finale where the new Miss Kansas is crowned. We open our businesses, homes and wallets to the pageant every year with excitement and pride.

Outsiders sometimes criticize the Miss Kansas program for being antiquated, sexist or even a little silly. The people of Pratt know better.

We see firsthand how each contestant develops confidence through interviews, invests in creating change to address a social issue, raises money to support Children’s Miracle Network and earns scholarships to pursue her career goals. Young girls participating in the youth programing get to live a dream by spending time with role models who dress like princesses.

As pageant insiders, we take the selection process as seriously as the actual judges do. Predicting the winner requires you to look past the elegant ball gowns and fabulous shoes, for confidence and joie de vivre, or enjoyment of life. There are spirited debates over what talent performances rise to the top. Conversations sparked by candidates’ social platforms and opinions on current events.

I often refer to the pageant as the “social highlight of the Pratt season,” which is a humorous parallel to the debutante seasons of British high society. Instead of the grandeur of Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, our royalty attends events at places like the municipal building, the local country club and the main events take place on a temporary stage and runway built in the middle of the Beaver Dome, our local community college’s sports arena.

The event may not be elegant or spectacular but that is the point. If we look past physical beauty and crowns, we find the heart of the tradition: community.

Year after year, people volunteer, sponsor and attend the pageant because we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to have a reason to get gussied up and spend time with our friends and neighbors; relish the magic that comes from watching someone new fall in love with a favorite tradition; feel the satisfaction of a successful event; enjoy the anticipation that comes from having great ideas about how the event will be even better next year.

Pratt is not the only place brought together by an annual event. All across the heartland, you can find jubilees, Fourth of July celebrations, harvest festivals and so much more. Each one has traditions you will not understand if you are an outsider. Don’t let that stop you.

As rural America continues to shrink, the strength of many communities may very well depend on events like Pratt’s Pageant. Raise your hand to help. Make the drive to join in the fun. Try the local flare and support a small-town business.