Question: What sets you apart from the other contestants?
Elizabeth Coakley focused. She was allowed 20 seconds for an answer, but only a moment to decide how to answer. No pressure, either. It was only the Miss Virginia Teen USA pageant.
Should she talk about the time in 9th grade, when friends encouraged her to compete in the Junior Miss Abingdon High School pageant and she finished second runner-up?
“Third place sounds really good if people don’t know that there were only three people in the competition,” Coakley says.
OK. Don’t mention that.
Instead, maybe she should talk about her role as the starting second baseman on the Abingdon (Va.) softball team, which she helped lead to the state quarterfinals just last season as a sophomore.
Miss USA’s system is Donald Trump’s creation, and separates itself from the Miss America pageants by not requiring contestants to display a talent. But the judges don’t know about Coakley’s ability to turn a 6-4-3 double play. Shouldn’t that separate her from the other contestants?
“She’s so fun to coach at practice, and that translates to her success on the field,” Abingdon softball coach Jason Delp says. “She’s very good defensively and on the bases, she’s a quick learner, and she’s respected by her teammates.”
Coakley initially had to win over those teammates, though, because it’s not every day that a varsity athlete is also interested in beauty pageants.
“A lot of people don’t understand how much work pageants are,” she says. “And those were my softball teammates at first. They would say, ‘This is so weird, we’re used to seeing you with your hair in a mess.’ ”
But there is no question that softball is closest to Coakley’s heart. She has been playing on travel teams like Virginia’s Natco Hurricanes since she was 7 years old. But when high school started, she discovered a completely different world that coincidentally allowed her to use the traits she developed in softball to her advantage.
“When it comes to the pageant’s final night, it’s kind of like the night of a big game,” says her father, Bruce Coakley. “And what makes her successful is that she truly knows how to bring her game face.”
And boy did she have that game face on the stage of the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach on Nov. 5, after the Miss Virginia Teen USA pageant had been whittled down to a mere five contestants. What set her apart?
“My accomplishments,” Coakley said with the utmost of confidence.
She continued to explain to the panel that she has already raised $12,000 for the American Heart Association and has been a straight-A student her whole life. She would’ve talked about her softball team, too, but they gave her only 20 seconds.
“When it got down to Elizabeth and another girl and they announced the other girl first as the first runner-up, I knew she had won it,” said Bruce, who will watch his daughter in the Miss Teen USA pageant in the Bahamas next July. “And the first thing that went through my mind was this little girl who had worked so hard and always played softball and learned that work ethic and now I was proud of her as a parent because I knew this was something that she really wanted and had that inner drive to be able to go get.”
Maybe it’s what Dad said. Maybe it’s that inner drive that sets her apart. After all, she’s the type of girl who -- after winning the crown -- presented a check to a charity in Virginia Beach on a Thursday night, drove seven hours home, got back at 4:08 a.m., and woke up for school the next morning because she refused to miss class. Such was the case when a Miss Virginia obligation came calling.
So let's review: A talented softball player, a charitable nature and an elite student.
That’s not just one crown. That’s a triple crown.