Nunez picked to lead court

Scott Swanson

Haley Nunez was named 2021 Sportsman’s Holiday Queen Thursday evening, July 8, during an outdoor program held at the amphitheater at Community Chapel.

Before an audience of approximately 150 people, Nunez and fellow court members Paige Chafin, Serenity Corona-Dehart, Kami Hart and Jess Maynard each spoke on the theme “What Does Community Mean to You?” and gave impromptu answers to questions, for a panel of judges who evaluated them on poise and personality.

Judges were Michael and Karen Caruso, Lagea Mull, Paul Newman, Autumn St. Clair and Miriam Swanson. Prior to the program, each queen candidate was also interviewed one-on-one by the judges.

Emcee Don Knight led the program and Mayor Greg Mahler read a proclamation for the weekend celebration and encouraging residents to participate.

Sportsman’s Holiday Junior Court members also were introduced and performed to “Smokey Bear,” with Smokey showing up in person at the end of the song and dance. The Junior Court this year is made up of both first- and second-graders because there was no court last year, organizers said. They are: second-grader Novaleigh Adams, first-grader Bentlee Bullock, first-grader Kayson Burnett, first-grader Gabby Chiaffino, second-grader Marshall Erickson, second-grader Eloise Fahey, second-grader Lincoln Funk, second-grader Isabella Martinez, second-grader Elena McGovern, second-grader Abigail Meek, first-grader Sadie Moore, first-grader Kira Nicholson, first-grader Amelia Smith and first-grader Bailey Spiers.

The program also included a performance of the national anthem by Praise in 3D – George, David and Cliff Dominy, and a solo performance of “You Raise Me Up” by David Dominy.

Former Hawthorne counselor Stefani Brown sang “Don’t Stop Believing” and Chamber of Commerce Director Melody Reese sang three numbers, Kelsea Bellerini’s “Half of My Town,” a self-composed song called “Bright,” and “Sparks Fly” by Taylor Swift.

In their assigned speeches, all the court members spoke about the small-town closeness of Sweet Home and people’s willingness to help those in need.

Chafin noted how, after her father had an accident, “the community really stepped up” with “prayers and love and support.”

“You don’t have to be born here to be part of this community,” she said. “Anybody here will do anything for you.”

A rapidly rising wrestler in the state, Chafin noted that she’s received “an amazing amount of support” from parents, coaches and “everyone here.”

Maynard, whose cousin Zach Maynard was killed in a tragic personal watercraft accident at Foster Lake last year, said she’s seen the community come together to support those in need: “fundraisers, bottle drives. The amount of kindness I’ve seen in 17 years amazes me and I will always be thankful that Sweet Home is my town.”

Hart, who is also a wrestler – both she and Chafin finished third in the recent state championships, cited contributions by “the amazing men and women in our community.”

She cited Knight’s volunteerism as one example – he “dedicates time to things like this,” and wrestling coach Steve Thorpe as another, who is heavily committed to the high school and Sweet Home’s wrestling program.

“He’s one of the most well-known people in the community because he devotes his time. To me, that’s what community is about.”

Corona-Dehart noted that the crowd at the event was there “to support the court” as it supports schools and local businesses. She cited the example of the Rio Theater and how the community stepped up during the pandemic to help it stay open.

She also said teachers provide a lot of support.

“It’s a big thing for kids our age to be supported by the community.”

Nunez told how her 4-H equestrian leader, Angela Burger, has provided leadership and advice, even lending her a horse, which “changed my life.” She also noted the closeness of the community in that “most, if not all of the first-responders at the fire house know my family – ‘Hey, ‘you’re Dustin’s daughter’ – and I don’t even know their names.”

“Community, to me, is a lot more than a neighborhood,” Nunez said. “It’s family, somebody to support you whenever it’s needed.”

She cited examples of people donating food and water to firefighters during last summer’s wildfires and how local citizens made themselves available with trucks and trailers to rescue livestock.

“Community is just friendly,” she said. “To me, community is love.”

Following an impromptu comedy interlude by Knight, who demonstrated how to wave in a long parade (cupped hand, little movement) or a short parade (elbow movement, with wrist following), the princesses answered their own impromptu questions.

Responding to the question, “How can we better promote volunteerism in our community?” Chafin said: “Putting on more events like this” which are “really fun to come to.” She said that younger residents who enjoy such activities would be more inclined to participate when they get older.

Dehart answered “Who is your role model and why?” by naming her mother.

“My mom has helped me grow a lot,” she said. “She’s helped me learn right and wrong, growing up. What she’s done for me has really guided me for what I want to do after high school.”

Hart, asked “Do you think social media has helped or hurt our society, and why?” said it has done both.

“On the pro side, social media can connect us so we can stay in community,” she said. “On the opposite side, a lot of people base their whole lives on social media. They just need to take a step back.”

Maynard was asked what she liked best about the community of Sweet Home. She cited her earlier speech: “I really like the family atmosphere,” noting that even people who don’t know each other care.

“I’ve gone to churches where people pray for people who they don’t know.”

Nunez was asked what her top choices would be for things to do and see in Sweet Home.

“Visit Foster Lake Mall and the dam, along with the lake,” she advised. “I believe that the lake has such a huge impact on our society, on us. It’s brought a lot of people here and it’s brought them back.”

Brown offered “words of encouragement” before the crowning of the queen, admitting that since she usually works with elementary students, “what could I say to high-schoolers to motivate them and prepare them for the future? I’m not gonna lie; I had to Google it.”

What she found, though, she said, was pretty much what she would have said, which was advising the girls to “find happiness for yourself first – don’t forget that you must be happy with who you are and what you are doing with life first.”

More advice: practice gratitude, strive to be more than just pretty, engage in hobbies that “rejuvenate you,” and “know what you deserve.”

“You are all beautiful,” Brown told the court, urging them to get out of “toxic” relationships.

“Make sure you are being treated like the beautiful people you are. You are amazing, you are in an amazing community, surrounded by amazing people.”

2020 Queen Becky Belcher, along with court members Natali Chase and Olivia Martineau, crowned Maynard as Miss Congeniality and Hart was named First Princess, who would step in if Nunez is unable to fulfill her queenly responsibilities.