On the eve of registration, 2022 Five Hills Scholarship program status uncertain

Cove Leader-Press 

Usually by this date on the calendar, volunteers with the Five Hills Scholarship program are ready to receive registrations starting Feb. 1 for the annual pageant. 
However, right now with uncertainty surrounding the program staying under the umbrella of the City of Copperas Cove, it’s uncertain exactly what will happen with registration for 2022’s event. The pageant itself is set for the last Saturday in March, which culminates the city of Copperas Cove’s birthday week. 
The Five Hills Scholarship Program is currently listed under the City of Copperas Cove’s website URL of https://www.copperascovetx.gov/pio/five_hills_pageant/, which contains a link to annual pageant information, rules, bylaws, as well as the Hall of Royalty from past years.
“The goal is still to open it on Feb. 1,” said Volunteer Program Director Wendy Sledd. "But the city council’s decision on Tuesday will determine if that comes to a reality. If they say no, obviously it will not open. If they say yes, but we need to work out some things, I will question, ‘May we go ahead and open while we work things out?”
Since 2014, the program, which pageant averages 150 registrants annually, has been the means by which the program gains its annual lineup of volunteers, who have put in tens of thousands of hours for various causes, a number of which directly benefit the City of Copperas Cove’s quality of life programs. The pageant registration is how the program is funded, as it does not receive a budget allocation from the city.
On Tuesday, Feb. 1 – the same day that pageant registration opens – the Copperas Cove city council will again be discussing the status of the program and whether or not the councilmembers will direct the city to create an ordinance that makes the program an “official” activity of the City of Copperas Cove, or let the program go on its own, in which case it will dissolve. 
Sledd has presented ideas and opportunities to the council so the scholarship program’s platforms can focus on Copperas Cove’s quality of life services, such as the Library, the city’s Animal Shelter, the Senior Center, Parks & Recreation, and the Keep Copperas Cove Beautiful commission. 
Sledd shared with the council on Jan. 4 that now that the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program has obtained funding so the city can have a dog park, the next project on the horizon to help the city is funding an “all-play” playground, tailored to children and others with physical disabilities. 
“We have $58,000 in our account, which we have worked for and saved for various endeavors. The city has said they want and need this type of a playground.” 
She added that another project involves funding renovations for the Copperas Cove Senior Center, or even constructing a new one. 
Sledd said she also would like a three- to five-year plan of platform ideas from the city, should this go forward.
The initial kink in the works from some councilmembers’ perspectives was questioning the public purpose not of the program, but of the pageant itself and whether it benefits the public. 
City Manager Ryan Haverlah first brought the matter of the program’s status to the council in January, when talks by the council resumed on how to store the program’s float and how much to spend on it. The matter of liability was also brought up, and the city has not offered any public information on if its attorney finds the program a liability to the city. There was also the matter of how having a “pageant” to determine the “volunteers” was not giving all an opportunity to volunteer. However, comparatively speaking, there are city boards to which individuals apply and yet aren’t guaranteed they will be appointed, if there are more applicants than vacancies on a particular board, which happens from time to time. 
For some reason, the idea of a “pageant” for selecting volunteers also trips up some when considering the program. 
Not every child participates in sports, Sledd said, and not all children who pay to participate in sports receive a championship ring, she added, still making her case for using a pageant-type assessment format to select volunteer representatives. 
She said those who register for the pageant are not simply registering to volunteer or for their platform, but they are signing up for the total package. 
“They want the crown, they want the banner, they want the scholarship, they want to ride on the float,” Sledd said. “Most importantly, they want to impact their community on a large scale and the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Program makes that possible.”
Sledd did say she is not opposed to the idea of changing the program’s name. She noted that the word “pageant” is not in the name of the program, it’s the Miss Copperas Cove Five Hills Scholarship Program. 
Also, Sledd noted there’s a buy-in from both residents and businesses to keep this program.
“We’ve crowned more than 100 titleholders since 2014 and we average 150 contestants annually. By the community’s participation in this, and more than 100 sponsors in the business community each year, the citizens, business owners and operators, have made it clear they want this program,” Sledd said.
The idea of a city keeping a volunteer program which involves a pageant isn’t unique. The city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, has an annual Tomato Festival during which a pageant is held and queens are crowned. During the year, those individuals represent the city during the following year. As with Copperas Cove, this program is run under that city’s Parks & Recreation Department. Recently, the Five Hills Scholarship program was moved under the City of Copperas Cove’s Public Relations.
The city council will meet for its workshop at 5 p.m. on Feb. 1, followed by a 6 p.m. meeting. The agendas for both have not been released as of press time.

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