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Little Mr. and Miss Seminole step into big roles

Little Mr. and Miss09HOLLYWOOD — The 36 tiny tots vying for the 2015-16 Little Mr. and Miss Seminole titles Feb. 6 may have been small in stature, but they stood tall in their best patchwork outfits while commanding the crowd’s attention at Hard Rock Live.

After circling the arena floor twice, standing still for judges to rate their regalia and answering challenging questions about their favorite foods and their pets’ names, contestants waited patiently with poise for the results.

Victoria Benard, of Davie, captured the Little Miss Seminole crown and Gregory James III, of Brighton Reservation, took Little Mr. Seminole.

Judges came from far and wide to rate the pageant. Miss Indian World Taylor Thomas, of the Shoshone- Bannock Tribe in Idaho; Montana State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, of the Chippewa Cree Tribe; Miss Florida Teen USA Jara Ann Courson, a Seminole Tribe descendant; and Miss Florida USA Ashleigh Lollie judged contestants on traditional outfits, personality and speaking skills.

“Those are the basic things you need to be a representative,” Thomas said. “Personality has a lot to do with it, but it takes a lot of strength to stand in front of people.”

Although there was no talent component in the pageant, Princess Committee chairwoman Wanda Bowers expected the 5- to 7-year-old contenders to communicate clearly. Miss Florida Seminole Brianna Nunez interviewed each girl, while Jr. Miss Thomlynn Billie questioned the boys.

“At this age, they just have to be patient and able to sit during an event,” Bowers said. “They are judged on their demeanor; their parents have prepared them. They just need to be nice little people.”

The event, part of the 44th annual Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow, follows a tradition begun in 1957 when the first Tribal Council elected the first Seminole princess. The first official pageant was held in 1960.

“I felt so proud of myself,” said Victoria, 6. “I practiced all year.”

Her mother, Madeline Benard, knows what the one-year reign will entail; her son Roberto is the outgoing Little Mr. Seminole.

“I like showing them off,” Benard said. “Even though it gets crazy taking them to all the events, it makes me proud as a mom.”

Roberto said he will tell his sister to speak properly and say hello.

“She’s my sister; she’ll do a good job,” he said.

Gregory, 6, took his win in stride.

“I like it,” he said. “I waved and walked. Now I want to be a judge.”

Gregory’s mother, Charlotte Burgess, sits on the Princess Committee and is proud of her son for taking the title.

“He’ll make a good Little Mr. Seminole,” she said.


Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at