Grainger Today Editor
Mackenzi Penrod never thought she’d compete in pageants, but the Grainger High School junior has won two pageant titles since August.
Penrod said she began her pageant career after she was talked into competing in the Fairest of the Fair pageant by her best friend, Makayla Wright, who holds the title of Jefferson County Ambassador. She said after Wright talked with her about entering the pageant, she mentioned it to her mom who encouraged her to enter.
She won the title of Jefferson Fair Sweetheart as first runner up in her first pageant.
“I never once – ever – thought I would be competing in a pageant. Honestly, never once,” Penrod said.
“After that first pageant, I was like, I think I actually like this. Maybe this is fun. You know, you get to wear heels, dress up a little bit. So, it was really fun.”
Wright encouraged her to continue to compete by participating in some smaller pageants to prepare for state competition, and Penrod found a preliminary competition for Miss Tennessee United States on Facebook.
She said, “I was like, why not? What have I got to lose?”
Penrod competed in the preliminary Fall Fest pageant held in Sevier County, and won. Her win means she will now compete for the title of Miss Tennessee United States in April. The pageant will take place in Pigeon Forge. A win at that competition would mean advancing to the Miss Teen United States pageant.
She said, “I walked into this like this is going to be a one-time thing and now I’m like, I’m going to go be Miss Tennessee!”
Penrod said the categories for judging competitors vary from pageant to pageant. Some pageants include an interview component, while some do not. Some require formal dress and others require a coordinated number.
The state pageant in April will include a swimsuit portion. Penrod said, “I don’t know how I feel about that.” Evening gown, an opening number and an interview will also be included in the state pageant.
Penrod said there are different pageant systems, the Miss America, Miss USA and Miss United States systems. Each system works differently and has different requirements. The Miss America system includes a lot of opportunities for scholarships, and she might change to that system in order to seek scholarships to help fund her college expenses.
She hopes to be a pediatric surgeon, and is considering specializing in cardiothoracic surgery.
“The heart muscle fascinates me. I don’t know why, but it is so amazing,” she said. “I haven’t completely decided on that yet because I just want to work with kids in general.”
She said she hopes to complete her first two years at Walters State Community College and then possibly transfer to UT. She said she is considering Vanderbilt or possibly Johns Hopkins University for medical school.
Penrod has lived in Grainger County for almost two years. She hails from a small town in Southeast Ohio, but moved to the Rutledge area after a family visit left her parents in love with the area.
Penrod’s grandparents had visited the area with friends who had a camper at Cherokee Lake. After health issues forced them to retire, they purchased their own camper and placed it on the lake.
A couple of Christmases ago the whole family decided to travel to Rutledge to spend Christmas at the camper. They spent time in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, participating in various activities and watching shows. Shortly after returning home from that visit, Penrod’s parents asked if they could use the camper for a few days. When they returned to Ohio at the end of their stay they declared they had found employment opportunities and were moving to Tennessee. Within 30 days, they sold their home, packed up and moved to Rutledge.
Despite the sudden move, Penrod said she loves attending Grainger High School.
“It has its days, but I love it. I really do. Honestly, I feel like I’ve excelled more here. Not only academically but just with friends. I’ve noticed I have, my variety of friends is really crazy. There’s not a person there that I don’t think i could be friends with. I love it there.”
Penrod said her first experience with southern hospitality came when she was waiting to get on a bus and offered to let a boy get on the bus before her. She said she told him, “Go ahead,” but he said, “No. Ladies first.” Penrod was astonished. She said, “I got home and I told my Papaw and my mom, ‘Listen, you have to know what this kid did to me today!’”
Aside from pageant participation, Penrod’s interest lie in sports and fishing.
She has played volleyball and was a cheerleader. She also coached volleyball and cheerleading and assisted with coaching in softball prior to moving to Tennessee. She said she and her mom had started a volleyball program.
This past year, Penrod began helping coach the Grainger Grizzly Grasscutter cheerleaders. She said she helped a cheerleader named Keniah with tumbling just prior to a cheer competition. The day of the competition Keniah was very nervous, but Penrod told her, “You’ve got this.” She said she asked Keniah to say “I’ve got this,” like she meant it. Keniah told her, “I mean it, I’ve got this,” just prior to successfully performing a back handspring she had learned to do only days before the competition, and surprising her mom with her newfound skill.
“That is probably one of my favorite moments ever, coaching,” Penrod said.
Penrod works a part-time job at Zaxby’s in Jefferson City, and was recently inducted into the Grainger High School Senior Beta Club. She is hosting a Christmas Princess Party to help raise funds to cover the costs of her participation in the Miss Teen Tennessee United States pageant in April. The event will be held at the Jefferson City Community Center Saturday, Dec. 16 from 5:30 until 8 p.m. The current Fairest of the Fair, pre-teen Fairest of the Fair and Jefferson County Ambassador will be present. Everyone is asked to bring a $5 gift. The cost to participate is $15 with a maximum fee of $40 per family. Food and snacks will be served. Participants will learn about internet and personal safety and will participate in activities including games and hair, makeup and nails. The event is open to those of any age.