For more than 50 years, the Miss Rodeo America organization has given young "cowgirls" the opportunity to represent the Western lifestyle by serving as ambassadors for the rodeo world.
New Jersey is finally part of that organization with the newly established Miss Rodeo New Jersey pageant and its first queen, Lin Gentile, a 2010 Woodstown High School graduate.
"We are directly affiliated with Miss Rodeo America," Miss Rodeo New Jersey pageant co-director Rhonda Heady told the South Jersey Times of Woodbury. "For years, there hasn't been any representative from New Jersey in the Miss Rodeo America pageant. So, I was thrilled when I was asked if I would bring New Jersey back to the pageant," the Clarksburg resident told the newspaper.
Heady's co-director, Ashley Tetrick of Woolwich Township, said she has been friends with Heady for nearly 10 years.
"I moved here five years ago from Illinois, and Rhonda said, 'You should do this,'" Tetrick recalled. "Finally, she talked me into it and it's been a lot of fun."
While the Miss Rodeo America competition is a beauty pageant with additional elements such as personal interview and horsemanship, this year's Miss Rodeo New Jersey was chosen differently.
Because the not-for-profit, New Jersey organization was just recently created and has "zero funding," Tetrick said Miss Rodeo New Jersey 2013 was selected by the pageant directors.
"We did a small, selective process," Tetrick said. "We had girls send in applications, similar to a job interview. We selected Lin because we thought she would be a great representative. She will be active in helping us set up the organization."
Heady explained another reason they decided to choose this year's queen through an application process was to help introduce the idea to New Jersey.
"Since this is all new to New Jersey, we wanted to have an actual queen with us when we went around and got sponsors," she said. "It was easier to have someone with us who represents what we're doing, therefore we did the selective process to crown Lin as our first Miss Rodeo New Jersey."
Lin was surprised to hear about the pageant.
"I was in Maryland with my boyfriend when Ashley called to see if I would be interested in doing an interview for Miss Rodeo New Jersey," Lin remembered. "I wasn't sure because I don't have much experience with pageants, but I said I would if she helped me the entire time."
After an interview and riding exhibition, Lin was chosen for the title.
"I was excited because I thought it was only between me and maybe a couple other girls, but then I found out there were like 30 girls to start with before they narrowed it down," Lin said.
Heady said Lin has been involved with Future Farmers of America (FFA) and raising her own show horses for many years.
"Lin is such a well-rounded individual, which is exactly what it takes to be in this position," Heady said. "Being Miss Rodeo New Jersey is much more than being able to ride a horse, it's being well-liked in your community, volunteering in your community and truly believing in the Western heritage of Professional Rodeo — all of which fits Lin perfectly."
Tetrick said, as pageant directors, it is their job to promote the Western lifestyle through the pageant.
"For the past 20 or 30 years, girls have been pulled so far away from the Western lifestyle before they even got a chance," she said.
Lin is excited about helping to promote the pageant.
"I'll be helping them get it off the ground," she said. "We need sponsors and girls to send in their applications so we can build up to a big pageant. Basically, we have to play catch up with the other states."
While performing the duties of her Miss Rodeo New Jersey title, Lin is also graduating from Gloucester County College this year and transferring to Thomas Edison State College in Trenton where she plans to major in criminal justice.
"I hope to get a degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology," Lin said of her future. "I'd like to go through FBI or state police training and go into a profiling job."
Being involved in rodeo can also lead to many benefits including internships and scholarships.
"The goal of any rodeo queen is to compete for the Miss Rodeo America title," Tetrick said. "Where I grew up in Illinois, girls were prepped from a very young age to compete."
Heady was only 15 when she received her first rodeo queen title.
"Knowing from experience, it is such a privilege to be involved with these organizations," she said. "The skills these young ladies will learn, the experiences they will get, the people they will meet, it will all have a long-lasting impact on their lives."