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Las Vegans win right to show Nevada’s face in Miss USA, Miss Teen USA pageants

WEEKEND EDITION Dec. 20 - 21, 2003

A pair of native Las Vegans will represent Nevada in the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants next year.

Both 23-year-old Victoria Franklin and 18-year-old Helen Salas say they hope to show national television audiences that Nevada is represented by intelligent, compassionate women who would make excellent United States representatives.

Both women won their 2004 crowns at pageants on Dec. 13 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Judy Bailey Theatre. Each competed against a dozen other entrants.

The Miss USA pageant will be in March, with the date and location to be determined. The Miss Teen USA pageant will be in August in Palm Springs, Calif., with the date to be determined.

While Salas, a senior at Chaparral High, is a newcomer to the pageant circuit, Franklin is a veteran competitor who at 17 won the 1998 Miss Nevada Teen USA pageant and finished second runner-up at the 1998 Miss Teen USA event -- one of the best finishes ever for a Nevadan in a national pageant.

"I hope to represent Nevada well and show that even though we are a small state, we are no dummies here," said Franklin, a graduate of Eldorado High who has a bachelor of arts degree in communications from the University of Arizona.

"We have intelligent young women in Nevada and we are a state that has a lot of good things to offer," she said.

Franklin, who has sisters ages 10 and 12, said her platform will be a push for child mentoring. Franklin, who has a minor in sociology, hopes one day to be a social worker. A singer and dancer, she works as a dance instructor for 4- to 16-year-olds at Las Vegas' Doolittle Center.

For Salas, a member of the Chaparral girls soccer and volleyball teams, it was her first attempt at a beauty crown.

"One day I was walking at The Rio pool and a woman -- a total stranger -- told me, 'You should be in a pageant.' So I signed up for Miss Nevada Teen USA."

A student who regularly gets A's and B's, Salas said her platform is cancer awareness.

"I recently went to the Miss Minnesota Teen USA pageant to sell flowers as part of the Pageantry Against Cancer program," Salas said. "I was happy to have raised $395 for the American Cancer Society."

Salas said she learned about Pageantry Against Cancer on the Internet. The program was founded by Mrs. Minnesota 1985 Faith Schway, who operates the Premier Self-Improvement and Modeling School in Minneapolis and was one of the original Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders.

Franklin, who is 5-foot-7, and Salas, who is 5-foot-6, both are brown-eyed brunettes, which is an about-face from last year's Nevada pageants in Henderson when blue-eyed blondes Ashley Huff, 22, and Ashley Phelps, 15, took the titles.

Franklin, who is black, said she is researching whether she will be the first African-American woman to represent Nevada at Miss USA.

Franklin, however, is cautious because when she won Miss Nevada Teen USA five years ago she initially was promoted as the first black to win that title. But it was Franklin's post-pageant research that found a black teen had won the 1984 Nevada crown, which she brought to the attention of pageant officials.

One difficulty in determining such "firsts" is that there is not a central database of Nevada USA pageant winners, and records that do exist are sketchy.

"Sure it is great to make breakthroughs because there still are barriers that need to come down," Franklin said. "But I just want to be looked at as Nevada's representative" regardless of color.