City Lights: Passing on her crown

This week, I interviewed a woman who had a rose bush planted outside City Hall in her honor, rode in Huntington Beach's Fourth of July Parade, passed out candy at the Easter Hunt, helped launch rubber ducks at the Duck-A-Thon, organized a Relay for Life team, visited kids in the hospital and appeared at almost every chamber mixer and ribbon-cutting in Surf City over the last year.

OK, that may be the wordiest lead in the history of Times Community News. But it ought to give you an idea of the regimen Cassie Cotarelo, better known as Miss Huntington Beach, has followed for the last 12 months.

Cotarelo was a Marina High School senior when she won the Miss Huntington Beach Scholarship Pageant a year ago. Saturday evening, she'll set her glittery crown on the head of this year's winner — and her schedule will open up considerably.

Still, the Orange Coast College student, who dreamed of winning a beauty contest since meeting Miss California at age 5, will miss the year when she represented her hometown as many as three times a week.

"I'm gonna miss it," Cotarelo said Tuesday. "It's a little bittersweet."

When Cotarelo signed up for the pageant, she imagined that if she won, she might have to attend a couple of events over the course of a year. That would have been my guess, too, given that most of my knowledge of beauty pageants comes from the movie "Little Miss Sunshine."

But talking with Cotarelo, who will crown her successor at Huntington Beach High School's historic auditorium, gave me a glimpse of how demanding the life of a Surf City queen is.

As Miss Huntington Beach, Cotarelo got monthly emails from the pageant's executive director, Pam Alagata, listing the events she had to attend. Sometimes, she got calls to appear on short notice. Despite a demanding schedule that involved both class and 20 hours a week of dance practice, Cotarelo managed to make nearly every date.

When a new business joined the Chamber of Commerce, she attended the ribbon-cutting. At the Easter Hunt, she passed out candy and hung out with the kids, who regarded her with the same awe she once had for Miss California. And sometimes, she added activities of her own — like the Miss Huntington Beach Relay for Life team, which she founded with her dance teacher and a group of friends and plans to oversee in subsequent years.

"Whatever is asked of her, Miss HB is there," said Alagata, who serves as the queen's minder during public appearances.

Cotarelo gave her all to being Miss Huntington Beach, but she got a few choice things back. Working on events, she said, gave her an insider's view of how a city works. And as she met with one chamber official and businessperson after another, networking took care of itself.

So what words of wisdom would Cotarelo give to the next in line?

"The best advice I would give is just to take advantage of every opportunity and seize every moment," she said. "You can only have one year to say you were Miss Huntington Beach."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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