KENDALLVILLE — Kendallville’s already on its way to making a run at next year’s Miss Indiana titles, as Jenna Zabona and Liz Schmidt will be two local faces competing for statewide crowns next year.
But their hometown isn’t the only things linking the two Miss Limberlost winners. They’ve known each other since they were little kids and have danced together at TC Dance for years. And, as pageant winners, they both have social platforms focusing on mental health.
And, like everyone else competing in scholarship competitions this year and next, they’re both just getting back into it after a long layoff due to COVID-19.
At the end of the local competition on Saturday at East Noble High School — which is only open to girls from Noble and LaGrange counties and is the first Miss Indiana-qualifying event in the state — Zabona, 19, walked away with the Miss Limberlost crown, while Schmidt, 14, claimed Miss Limberlost’s Outstanding Teen.
So with the crowns atop heads, they’ve already stamped their ticket to Miss Indiana next summer and can focus on local events, social advocacy and competition prep.
For Zabona, a past statewide winner as Miss Indiana’s Outstanding Teen in 2018, the return to the stage Saturday was not only her first time competing in the older Miss competition, but her first time back on the pageant stage at all since holding that statewide title.
“I haven’t competed in a pageant since I was 16,” Zabona said. “It’s like a whole different ballgame.”
Zabona, an incoming sophomore at Trine University, said preparing for the Miss-level competition is different because it drops the activewear that teens do and instead places more focus on a competitor’s social impact initiative, including speaking about the importance of their cause and how they’d advocate for it as Miss Indiana. That’s on top of the usual interview, talent and evening wear segments.
Zabona was Miss Indiana’s Outstanding Teen the year that the Miss America Organization dropped the swimsuit competition from its national contest. Her Miss partner then, Miss Indiana Lydia Tremaine, was the last Miss Indiana to have to compete in swimsuit at the state level before it was dropped at the Miss America stage.
Zabona’s social impact initiative is “Be Kind to Your Mind: Making Mental Health a Priority.”
“I am advocating for mental health awareness,” Zabona said. “I really want to go into schools and start from there in mental health and advocate for that.”
Being back on stage was a throwback, too, to her Miss Indiana’s Outstanding Teen days, which gives her a leg-up since she already knows what it’s like to compete for and win a statewide crown.
“It was definitely, I wouldn’t say nerve-wracking, but it was very different,” she said. “It felt nice to just get back in it and compete for the job of Miss Indiana.”
For Schmidt, an incoming freshman at East Noble High School, Miss Limberlost this year was her first time back on stage in two years after COVID-19 canceled events last year. She’s newer to the competition circuit, but showing promise early in her career with the Miss Limberlost’s Outstanding Teen win.
“I realized it was a great opportunity for me to build up my confidence and work on my speaking skills and make a lot more connections with my community,” Schmidt said.
Her social platform is “Be-U-tiful, Authentically You,” advocating to break down barriers and mental health road blocks to help teens find their authentic self, she said.
Like Zabona, Schmidt has been a longtime dancer at the local TC Dance studio, and the two Miss Limberlosts go way back. Getting to stand beside a longtime friend and fellow dancer as Miss Limberlost’s teen is an “honor” she said.
“We’ve always been friend since TC Dance, but I’ve always looked up the Jenna and she was one of the reasons I wanted to start competing,” Schmidt said.
Zabona now gets to play the role of mentor, having been on the opposite side of that pairing when she worked alongside Tremaine during 2018 in their time as Miss Indiana and Miss Indiana’s Oustanding Teen.
Now she’ll get to pay it forward, sharing her experience with the younger competitors and getting their support along the way.
“Being able to be Lydia Tremaine’s teen, I was definitely mentored by her a lot,” Zabona said. “I think that’s what I was most excited about ,competing in Miss, was being able to have a teen.”
With almost a full year until the next Miss Indiana competition — this year’s titles were just awarded June 20 — Zabona and Schmidt are booking events and appearances and excited to start talking about their social initiatives as they get out in the community.
Serious prep for Miss Indiana probably won’t start until next year, but when it does, they’ll be heading south in an effort to repeat the feats of 2016 and 2018 in having two Kendallville ladies wearing the Miss Indiana and Miss Indiana’s Oustanding Teen crowns.