PILOT EIDTORIAL - Miss Iowa's missing an arm, not a life

Monday, October 23, 2000

Theresa Uchytil is drop-dead gorgeous. She's also smart, talented, poised, athletic, well-spoken. Oh, and she just happens to have one hand, all she is born with.

Better one hand than half-witted, which is what the officials of the Miss America pageant may be.

Uchytil, the reigning Miss Iowa, was the first contestant in the 80-year history of the pageant to appear on stage with a visible disability.

Sure, the 1995 Miss America was deaf, and the 1999 winner has diabetes - but they still looked perfect, if that's all you want from a contest.

Uchytil is said to have stood out in her preliminary judging events, speaking on behalf of a cause, appearances in swimsuits and evening gowns, and a talent performance in which she offered a baton twirling show that the media said dazzled the judges.

So why did she not appear on the list 10 ten finalists?

Uchytil said she leaves with the feeling that the pageant held a "backlash" grudge against her for fear of becoming a "a disability pageant," a phrase some reporters were playing up. Pageant judges aren't saying a word.

The director of the Miss Iowa contest said she was afraid that the Miss America judges would be turned off by the visibility of Theresa's disability. The director of the Miss Golden Circle competition feels that Uchytil was "totally overlooked."

Nobody should be chosen in any competitive field because they have a physical disability. But it if it true that she never had a fair chance because of a handicap - then it's the pageant officials who are disabled... mentally. The Miss America pageant had a chance to be something more than a bunch of pretty girls parading around, if Uchytil was given the opportunity to represent it on television as a finalist.

If the allegations of discrimination are not true, the pageant should quickly release judges' original scoresheets to show where Miss Iowa didn't measure up.

Theresa Uchytil may be better off anyway. She can return to Iowa and keep on inspiring kids to believe that they can be anything they want to be, and that they don't need beauty pageant judges to tell them that they have their own beauty. The Miss America crown is a saddle she doesn't need.

She has more to show us than a stacked physique in a tight swimsuit on a neon stage in Atlantic City, which is all the Miss America contest is really about.