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Miss Huntington Beach crown goes to former two-time runner-up

miss huntington beach
Miss Huntington Beach Mara James, center, is flanked by first runner-up Natalie Peart, left, and second runner-up Gianna DiLiberto.
(Courtesy of Miss Huntington Beach Scholarship Competition)

A veteran of the Miss Huntington Beach competition got the queen’s crown on her third try Saturday night.

Mara James, 20, who was a runner-up in 2018 and 2017, came out on top in the annual Miss Huntington Beach Scholarship Competition at the Central Library Theater. Natalie Peart, 22, and Gianna DiLiberto, 21, were named runners-up.

The competition is open to women ages 18-28 who live, work or attend school in Huntington Beach. It is sponsored by the nonprofit Sand Dollars of Huntington Beach.

Saturday’s winners were crowned by Lily Orlando, Miss Huntington Beach for the past year.


A panel of five community members judged the nine contestants’ poise, grace and public speaking skills during the event, which also focused on candidates’ community involvement.

Other awards included Miss Congeniality — given to the participant voted most friendly by her peers — which went to both Jaida Takeda, 20, and DiLiberto.

According to event organizers, it was the first time in the competition’s history that there was a tie for Miss Congeniality.

“The whole idea of this competition is not only to better themselves but also foster relationships with other young women,” said Stacy Massey, first vice president of the Miss Huntington Beach Scholarship Competition. “So that was huge.”


Helen Reynolds, 18, earned the President’s Award for exemplifying community service.

James secured the award for Best Interview.

James, who was Miss Congeniality last year, is a Fountain Valley High School graduate and is enrolled at an undisclosed local college working toward an associate degree in communications studies, according to her competition bio. She plans to transfer to Cal State Long Beach in 2020 to earn her bachelor’s degree. She also aspires to complete a master’s at UC Santa Barbara, she said in her bio.

While competing, James highlighted her work with Soroptimist of Huntington Beach, a branch of Soroptomist International, a global volunteer group that focuses on social and economic empowerment of women and children. James works with the “Dream It, Be It” program, “helping young girls stay on the path to success through education and expressing themselves in safe spaces,” according to her bio.

The bio added that she wants to use the Miss Huntington Beach platform to further her advocacy in the community.

“We had one of the smoothest competitions we’ve ever had,” Massey said. “The girls were top-notch and lots of city officials attended.” Huntington Beach Mayor Erik Peterson announced the winners.

“A couple of participants who did not win have already chosen to run again next year,” Massey said.

The competition disburses more than $6,000 in scholarships to the three winners, though the amounts allotted to each were not disclosed.


To earn the full scholarships, winners have to remain enrolled in school, complete their classes and attend and participate in local events, the organization said.

James earned congratulations from Huntington Beach City Council members at their meeting Monday.

“Mara is a picture of persistence,” said Councilman Patrick Brenden. “We are really excited about having her as our spokesperson for the next year.”

Sand Dollars of Huntington Beach, which promotes civic engagement and community projects, has presented the competition since 1977, though it has existed in some form since “Miss Liberty” was chosen by the then-Pacific City Chamber of Commerce on July 4, 1904, according to the event’s website.

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