Tiger Deb hopes to dance her way into finals of Miss Kansas Pageant

Dakota Derstein

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing

Her favorite 4-H project was raising and showing swine. And she loves to dance.

While those two activities aren't usually found in the same sentence, they both have been a big part of Dakota Derstein's life. They also will play a major role for her in this week's Miss Kansas Pageant competition in Pratt.

Derstein, who just completed her freshman year at Fort Hays State University, is one of 35 young women who qualified to compete for Miss Kansas honors. The four-day competition that began Wednesday will culminate Saturday night with the crowning of Miss Kansas 2015.

This will be just the fourth pageant ever for Derstein, but she finished as runner-up at her first pageant, the Miss Dodge City/Cowboy Capital Pageant, last year. A lot of people would have been ecstatic with that finish, especially in their initial try. Not Derstein.

"I was kind of upset," she admitted. "The first thing I thought was 'What could I have done better that would have made the difference?' "

Derstein's platform for the pageant is "positive youth development through 4-H," something in which she is well versed. Derstein said her experience with the Lucky Clovers 4-H Club in Ford County was invaluable. She chose projects ranging from clothing construction and foods to home improvement, leadership and entomology -- and of course, swine.

"I love animals," she said, "anything to do with animals."

She also served as the emcee for beef shows and the Ford County public style revue and was asked to emcee the state style revue.

Derstein has two younger sisters, 13-year-old Kiowa and 8-year-old Canyon, who will be on hand to watch their older sister Saturday, along with their mother and father, Jeremy Derstein, and a lot of other family and friends.

It was a friend who talked to Derstein -- who has participated in dance since she was in early elementary school -- about competing in pageants, something Derstein had never even thought of before.

"Some people raise their kids to go through these things," said her mother, Donita Derstein. "But it's just not something we'd ever done. So we're pretty new to all this."
Derstein decided to give it a try when she learned one could earn scholarships for winning the various competitions.

At her first pageant in 2014, Derstein earned scholarships for selling the most tickets and also for the most sponsor donations. Then, at the Miss Southwest Kansas/Miss Santa Fe Trail Pageant later that month, she won the lifestyle and fitness competition for more scholarship money.

That was when she was a senior at Dodge City High School, when she was trying to make another big life decision -- where she wanted to go to college.

Derstein knew she wanted to major in wildlife biology and was checking out the fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology majors at Kansas State University. But when she tried to connect with someone personally, she was advised to check out the KSU website.

Not long afterward, an admission counselor from FHSU visited Dodge City High School. After getting to speak to the Fort Hays State representative in person, Derstein set up a visit to Hays. Once on campus, she was sold.

After committing to Fort Hays State, where she is majoring in wildlife biology and zoology, Derstein successfully tried out for the Tiger Debs, the FHSU dance team that performs at Tiger football and basketball teams.

FHSU has been a good all-around fit for her, Derstein said. Besides a much shorter drive home to see her family, Derstein has found her niche in several other areas on the FHSU campus.

"It's more hands-on at Fort Hays State, smaller class size, and I love it," she said. "Fort Hays State feels like home. It's my home away from home."

Halfway through her first year in college, Derstein was crowned Miss Dodge City 2015 in January and again won scholarship money for gathering the most in sponsorship donations.

She then began preparing for the Miss Kansas Pageant -- in addition to dancing with the Tiger Debs, finishing her first year at FHSU and doing community service as Miss Dodge City.

"It's definitely been a busy year," Derstein said, "but it's exciting."

Because of her experience in dance, Derstein chose a dance number for her talent competition in the Miss Kansas Pageant, which she performed Wednesday. Derstein's preliminaries for the evening gown and swimwear competition were scheduled for today, with the interview portion of the competition Friday.

Following the preliminaries, 10 contestants will advance to Saturday's finals, along with the Kansas' Choice award winner chosen from online voting.

"She's in the underdog kind of thing," her mother said. "We would have never expected this, but she keeps surprising us."

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