Less than 24 hours after being crowned Miss Springfield 2006, Ashley Linder found herself sitting alone on the wrong side of a conference room table, defending her reign and MySpace page.
Linder, 19, was named Miss Springfield on Thursday, June 1, beating 10 other girls for the title as part of the annual scholarship pageant. She was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.
A student at Christopher Newport University, Linder was planning to don her crown and sash during the Springfield Days parade on Saturday morning, June 3, as a decade’s worth of young women before her have done with pride.
Instead, Linder said, she was called Friday into a conference room with members of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber’s board of directors and their legal representation and informed that an upset parent had notified them of “inappropriate and offensive material” on her MySpace Web site. The Chamber sponsors the annual Springfield Days festival, of which the Miss Springfield Pageant is part.
“I started to get suspicious when people started trickling into the conference room and no one made eye contact with me,” said Linder, who was called to meet with members of the Chamber on Friday, June 2, at 3 p.m. for what she thought was a meeting to discuss her duties as Miss Springfield. “I noticed that no one was sitting on my side of the table.”
Chamber member Tammy Shapiro, director of the pageant, told Linder that “someone called and said they didn’t agree with what was on my page,” she said. “[Shapiro] told me that whoever called had threatened to protest me at any event.”
In order to protect Linder from that kind of treatment and stress, it was suggested that she sign a document giving up the title.
“They referred to my application, which mentions that I’d like to go into broadcast journalism and politics,” she said.
When asked to sign the statement giving up her title, she asked if she had any options in the situation.
“No one answered,” Linder said.
THE CONTENT on the MySpace page, a popular Web site on which people create profiles, post pictures and write online journals, included a song which referred to drug and alcohol use, some pictures featuring Linder and her friends “at a gay club at school we went to all the time." Linder admits that some things were put up “out of spite” toward her mother, Cynthia Linder, who created her own MySpace account to monitor Linder and her sister while they’re away at college.
“Most of what was on the site was put up in jest,” Ashley Linder said. “I’d be the first person to admit that.”
Prior to the meeting with members of the Chamber, Linder said she’d planned to take down the MySpace page because she wanted to portray the right kind of image as Miss Springfield. Following the meeting, she deleted all blog entries and made the page and its contents private, meaning they could not be found or searched without direct permission from Linder.
For the first time in the pageant’s 11 years, Linder was asked not to ride in Saturday's parade and was told that no mention of Miss Springfield would be made during the event.
“I can’t believe that one phone call can completely negate the fact that I’ve worked with these people for three years,” said Linder, who has entered the Miss Springfield pageant three times.
WHEN APPLYING to participate in the pageant, the contestants have to sign a document stating that they are “not of questionable moral character and are good citizens,” Ashley Linder said. “It’s not explicit in the least” as to what that means.
She understands why some of the content could be described as offensive but believes she didn’t do anything wrong that should cost her the crown.
Mike Linder, Ashley's father, said he’s proud of his daughter for standing up for herself and her beliefs.
“She’s a typical teenager," he said. "She’s a loving daughter and we have high aspirations of her. I think it’s her personality that won the judges over.”
He confirmed that Ashley Linder had planned to take the site down following the pageant because “she wanted to be a good Miss Springfield. This child puts her full effort into what she believes in,” he said.
Mike Linder said he backs up his daughter 100 percent. "That doesn’t mean I agree with what was on her site, but she’s standing up for herself," he said.
Shapiro said she was “asked not to comment” about the situation regarding the Miss Springfield Pageant and declined to give The Connection a copy of the criteria each contestant agrees to when applying for the pageant.
Tracy Pless, president of the Chamber's Board of Directors, also declined to comment on Monday afternoon, referring The Connection to John Pellegrin, the Chamber’s attorney.
"We're trying to get this concluded in an amicable fashion," said Pellegrin, who is also serving as attorney on behalf of the pageant. "Our position is that the winner has declined the title."
If Ashley Linder refuses to give back the crown, "we'll have to consider taking another action, but I'd rather not go into what that might mean," Pellegrin said Tuesday morning.
When asked for a copy of the form the pageant contestants sign while applying to participate in the event, Pellegrin said he didn't feel it was "germane" to the situation to give the document to The Connection and added that the pageant "might not have the right" to release the information.
The pageant is sponsored by a "loose knit group of sponsors and changes from year to year," he said, and no one specific organization or individual is responsible for it.
The $1,000 scholarship included in winning the title will not be issued to Linder, Pellegrin said.
IN ADDITION to riding in the Springfield Days parade, the winner of the pageant is traditionally suppose to serve as "an ambassador for Springfield" and possibly "attend different community events throughout the year," said Nancy-jo Manney, executive director of the Chamber.
"Being Miss Springfield isn't as rigorous as winning a pageant that's in line for Miss Virginia or Miss America," she said.
Regardless of what’s been asked of her, Ashley Linder said she’s not going to give up her title.
“I won this contest because I am an accurate depiction of the youth of Springfield,” she said. “I am true to my words, and I’m not willing to compromise who I am for anyone. I’m conducting myself in a manner that I feel is appropriate.”
Linder expressed frustration that after working for three years on something, one phone call could take it all away. "I’m not going down without a fight," she said.