Where can you find traditional antebellum dresses and southern charm? The 47th annual Azalea Trail pageant. But the Azalea Trail is more than just a pageant, it's been a southern tradition for Bay County since the 1970's. A long standing tradition for Bay County, but one that started in Mobile, Alabama.
Bobbie Massey, the pageant director, said, "that's where everything originated from. So the founders went to Alabama and saw this and brought it back and wanted to do it here."
And so they have...for 47 years now.
This year's queen is Ashley Sheffield. She's a senior at Mosley High School and already has plans for the scholarship money she won with the title. She'll enroll in Gulf Coast State College this Fall..."then I plan to go to UF where I want to do physical therapy or occupational therapy so I'm excited about that and the scholarship will definitely help with that, it's not cheap at all and any little bit helps" said Sheffield.
To her, the event was more than just a pageant. Through the process, she made 31 new friends. "They're so sweet. They were so happy for me and I was happy for them. It wasn't rivalry, it was friends really happy for other friends. It was good we could be excited for each other", said Sheffield.
Besides the friendships and tradition, the event is also generational. One contestants dress was handed down from a former contestant who competed in the Azalea Trail nearly 20 years ago.
But because of the weather, this year's event was inside the Panama City Garden Club, and the usual trail through The Cove was canceled. But organizers plan to bring that part of the tradition back. "Hopefully next year it won't rain, but if so, we'll be having back in here", said Massey.
Sheffield is looking forward to her year as queen. "It's really an honor, I feel like it's going to be good experience for me and be a leader and hopefully a role model for younger girls."
A total of $1600 was split between the top 5 contestants in this year's pageant. The contestants range from 9th to 12th grade.