Three crowned during Watermelon Festival pageant

BROWNSTOWN — Megan Pottschmidt was a third-grader at Lutheran Central School in Brownstown in 2009 when she was crowned princess of the Jackson County Watermelon Festival.

Now 22, she is among the royalty again as the festival is back for the first time since 2015.

On Thursday night at Heritage Park, she was crowned 2023 Miss Jackson County Watermelon Festival. She received a crown, a sash, a bouquet of roses, a prize package and $1,000 in cash.

When she heard the festival was returning to her hometown and there was going to be a pageant, Pottschmidt decided to go for it.

“I don’t know. I guess it must be like fate or destiny, whatever you might want to call it,” she said, smiling. “I was like, ‘Oh, I have to.’”

It took her back to her reign 14 years ago.

“When I was in third grade, I really thought that the whole festival revolved around me, and it was like, ‘I have to be there from sunup to sundown. I have to greet people, make sure I do my rounds,’ so I really took it personally,” she said. “I just remember the people and I remember playing the games, and I remember how special it made me feel.”

Now, the feeling is different.

“Now that I’m older, it’s a little bit less about me and a little bit more about the small town and just making this (festival) a thing again and having people come out and celebrate and see each other. I love that,” she said.

Pottschmidt was among seven young women vying for the title, which was open to Jackson County residents ages 17 to 22. She will preside over the festival, which started Friday and runs through today.

Also crowned during the pageant were Petite Miss (ages 4 to 6) and Little Miss (ages 7 to 9). Out of 13 contestants, Sophia Hochstedler was named Petite Miss, and out of 17 contestants, Paisley Rotert was named Little Miss.

Those winners received a crown, a sash, a bouquet of roses, a prize package, a plaque and $250 in cash. As part of the court, they will enjoy various activities at the festival, including VIP bounce house access and watermelon treats.

The Miss contestants were judged in three divisions: Personal interview, outfit of choice, evening wear and onstage question. The question was “What’s the biggest challenge young women are faced with today?”

Pottschmidt answered social media, sharing how she has seen the impact on the fourth-graders she teaches at Seymour-Redding Elementary School and other young women.

“There’s always that person that’s better than them or portraying that they are better than them, and so it really is harmful, I think, to their self-esteem, and that trickles into so many other things,” she said. “It can be hard to find your self-worth, it can be hard to have positive mental health and things like that when there’s always a better version of you being pushed at you, and it’s hard to stay true to yourself when they are telling you you are not enough.”

That answer and the way she presented herself during the pageant stood out to the two judges.

“I’m proud that I did the experience, and I’m proud that I put myself out of my comfort zone,” Pottschmidt said. “I’m obviously really happy and just excited, and I had so many friends encourage me to do this, from my coworkers to just my friends and my family. I was just looking out and seeing them who had all told me I could do it, and I was just like, ‘You were right.’”

After the festival, Pottschmidt will turn her attention to the Indiana State Festivals Association pageant Nov. 11 at Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield.

“I might as well continue the winning streak. That would be really cool,” she said, smiling. “I’ve been trying this past school year to do things outside of my comfort zone. I started volunteering at the arts center in Seymour and hosting classes there and doing things that normally I would not do. … (The pageant) is something that I was already proud of myself for doing.”

Pottschmidt is the daughter of Philip and Sharon Pottschmidt. She graduated from Trinity Lutheran High School in 2019 and Indiana University Southeast in 2022.

The other honor in the Miss competition was Miss Congeniality, which was voted on by the contestants. That went to Lillie Cote of Seymour. She received a sash and a bouquet of roses.

The Petite Miss and Little Miss contestants were judged in three divisions: Poise, outfit of choice and onstage question.

Hochstedler, 5, a kindergartner at Brownstown Elementary School, said she entered the Petite Miss pageant because she thought it was going to be fun and she had the confidence to win.

Those contestants walked across the stage and went up to emcee Katie Stam Irk to answer the question “If you were a superhero, what superpower would you like to have and why?”

“I would be a mermaid so I can go in the water and save all of the animals except for sharks,” said Hochstedler, the daughter of Jonathon and Anna Hochstedler of Brownstown.

Rotert, 9, a fourth-grader at Lutheran Central, said a family member winning a crown at the festival in the past inspired her to go for Little Miss.

“I saw other people doing pageants at like the fair and I thought it was really cool, so I wanted to do it,” she said.

Those contestants’ question was “If you were given $1 million, what would you buy with it and why?”

Rotert said she would buy a farm and take care of her cows.

“I feel like this would be very rewarding as I love animals, and my goal is to one day become a veterinarian,” said Rotert, the daughter of Matt and Paige Rotert of Brownstown.

Before the crownings, special awards were announced. Outfit of Choice went to Makena Elder (Petite Miss), Mia Crank (Little Miss) and Pottschmidt (Miss). Miss Photogenic went to Ally Gill (Petite Miss), Lainey Leitzman (Little Miss) and Jackie Rivera (Miss). They each received a plaque and a bouquet of roses.