UNIONTOWN – At the end of the 2014 Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Queen pageant Sunday at the State Theater in Uniontown, it was a Uniontown native who received the crown – Alyssa Gallagher, 17, of Laurel Highlands High School.
The cheer captain for the Laurel Highland cheerleading squad, Gallagher had a loud section of supporters letting the packed theater know she was their favorite candidate. Gallagher said having the support of her fellow cheerleaders was “awesome.”
“Everyone was so talented. I knew every single one of (the Coal Queen contestants) could win. I told my grandma after the pageant how it was so nice that not one person won everything,” she said, referring to the individual categories.
Gallagher said she knew a couple of the girls coming into the pageant but really bonded with the others through the events leading up to the event, especially a trip to Pittsburgh to take a Gateway Clipper cruise.
“We all became like a little pageant family,” she said.
It was watching other girls vie for the title as she was growing up that inspired Gallagher to follow in their footsteps. As a little girl, Gallagher loved to dance and, in 2004, she enrolled in the Koza and Company Dance Studio. Her little sister, Kaylea, 12, joined her.
“Ever since we were little kids, we have always been dancing around and then in 2004 Penny (Koza) opened her studio, and I just love her,” Gallagher said. “I haven’t picked out a college yet, but I know I want to study dance and to one day be a Radio City Rockette.”
Gallagher performed an expressive dance to the rhythmic “Watering Hole” by Australian artist Missy Higgins for her talent at the pageant.
She said the thing she is most looking forward to during her reign is visiting and speaking at the state capitol.
Outgoing 2013 Coal Queen Marina Stefano of Connellsville called this part of her time as queen “the experience of a lifetime.”
“This whole year as Coal Queen has taught me so much about the importance of the coal industry. I didn’t understand the true meaning behind the title when I first got it,” Stefano said. She joked that when friends asked her what a Coal Queen is her answer was, “Duh, it means I’m the queen of the coal.”
Following her underground tour at Enlow with her parents, Stefano had a better understanding, she said.
“We were underground for six hours but the time flew by. Before we went, I pictured pick axes and dynamite but the machines in the mine were more technologically advanced than I could even imagine,” she said. “It was like ‘Star Wars’ underground.”
Receiving the Miss Congeniality award, as selected by her fellow candidates, was Jenna Shumar of Brownsville High School. Shumar was also named fourth runner-up on the queen’s court.
Earning the award for most sponsorship monies at the pageant was Alexandria Wible of Beth-Center High School.
The Community Bank award for Miss Photogenic went to Allie Christopher of Carmichaels Area High School. Christopher was named first runner-up.
The award for top interview went to Faithlynn Walker of Clay Battelle High School.
The award for top evening gown went to Nina Rivera of Waynesburg Central High School. Rivera was named third runner-up.
The award for top talent went to Jenna Knisley of Uniontown High School. Knisley was named second runner-up.
It was Gallagher who received the award for the impromptu on-stage question of, “If you could give your parents one gift what would it be and why?”
Gallagher said she would give the gift of time to her father, Rodney Gallagher, who is raising her, Kaylea and her brother, Rodney Jr., 9, as a single parent. Her mother, Crystal Fields-Gallagher, passed away in 2011. Gallagher also has a baby sister, Summer.
She gave credit to her extended family, especially her maternal grandparents, David and Bonnie Fields, for pitching in to help her father.
After Gallagher was crowned the 2014 queen, her father and siblings joined her on stage for photos.
“My dad has always been really emotional. He was really happy,” she said. “He is so proud of all of us all the time.”