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Newly crowned Mr. Cougar: persistence proves to be key
Cougar awards
A number of awards were presented at the conclusion of the second annual Mr. Cougar pageant at Escalon High School on Friday night. Taking home the honors were, from left, Best Dressed Darrius Higby, Mr. Photogenic Nico Franzia, People’s Choice Anthony Jones, Mr. Cougar Andrew Morales, Mr. Congeniality Francisco Ontiveros. Marg Jackson/The Times

It was a night of singing, dancing, some juggling, even an Elvis impersonation … and it was all in good fun, as the second annual Mr. Cougar Pageant was staged on Friday night, March 22 at Escalon High School.

A total of 13 seniors were vying for the title and for Andrew Morales, the night ended with a victory, as he took home the crown. He also participated last year as a junior in the inaugural pageant, and said he has found that persistence is key.

“I’m a man that never gives up, I believe second time’s the charm, it’s in sports too, my first year ever doing sports I was the second slowest on the team, now I have been the fastest for the last three years so, you know, I believe in always following your dreams and never giving up,” Morales said following the pageant, wearing his crown, sash and holding on to the custom-made Mr. Cougar plaque.

“It feels unreal, I’ve never won something like this before,” he said, smiling.

He also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share the stage with so many fellow seniors, as they all took part in some fashion shows, the talent portion and answered impromptu questions from the panel of judges.

“I loved seeing everybody perform; this show was incredible,” Morales said.

The Mr. Cougar Pageant was presented by the EHS First Responders Leadership, with Madison Smith, Leslie Bobadilla and Ben Ferreira offering the welcome and introductions.

Serving as judges were EHS teachers Whitney Fanjul and Ryan Young, Pastor Brian Hunt and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jovan Coleman, who is a local Army recruiter.

The contestants were introduced as they modeled their EHS Spirit Wear and included Jacob Beneux, Nico Franzia, Ethan Garza, Darrius Higby, Anthony Jones, Nate Krieger, Luke Maxwell, Jamin Miller, Andrew Morales, Francisco Ontiveros, Matthew Rangel, Jeremiah Reis and Jagger Scott.

Hosts for the evening were John Konradi, Helena Arroyo and Lucas Estep, who bantered with each other as they introduced each portion of the program.

In between fashion shows for the contestants – which also included beach wear and rodeo wear – there were specialty acts. Young Cadence Davis did 50 cartwheels, much to the delight of the audience, as they helped count them as she tumbled on the stage. The Roaring Rhythm group of EHS students did a ‘flappers’ style dance routine and Brianne Coelho took the microphone for a solo singing performance.

The Mr. Cougar hopefuls also had the chance to display their talents for the judges and the audience, ranging from the juggling skills of Jagger Scott to the pogo stick routine by Matthew Rangel. Anthony Jones suited up as a Lucha Libre-style fighter and did a routine, Francisco Ontiveros sang and interacted with the audience. Nate Krieger did his best Elvis impersonation and Andrew Morales sang a Frank Sinatra song. Jamin Miller treated the crowd to some speed painting and even enlisted the help of judge Pastor Brian Hunt to add a few colorful strokes to the canvas.

The formal wear portion of the program also included questions posed to each contestant to gauge their ‘on the spot’ thinking skills.

For Darrius Higby, his question was regarding the creation of a new holiday; what would it be and how would it be celebrated.

“If I were to create a new holiday, it would have to be National Boys Day,” said Higby. “Want to know why? Because I love my group of boys and I love doing this with them; they’re my ride and die ‘til the very end, so National Boys Day, party at my house.”

Also on the unusual side, Luke Maxwell was asked how would he get out if he were the size of an eraser and was stuck in a blender.

“I’d just let the blender do its thing,” Maxwell said, to loud approval from the crowd.

If you were a dinosaur, what type would you be and how would you avoid extinction was the question posed to Nico Franzia.

“Good question,” he said. “If I were a dinosaur, I would be the dinosaur that could not die from meteor strikes.”

Jacob Beneux was asked, if he could be a household appliance, which one would he be and why.

“That is an excellent question,” Beneux responded. “Umm, probably the sofa because I’m pretty chill and laid back and it’s a place where friends and family can sit and come together.”

By the end of the evening, tabulating all of the scores for the various portions of the program, Andrew Morales walked away with the top prize, the title of Mr. Cougar.

Selected as Mr. Congeniality was Francisco Ontiveros, Mr. Photogenic was Nico Franzia, People’s Choice was Anthony Jones and Best Dressed was Darrius Higby.

“Very well put together, loved being here, like to be invited back next year,” judge Coleman said. “It’s good to see a different side to them.”

For his part, Mr. Congeniality said he was glad to have taken part in the event.

“It feels great, senior year, you’ve got to go all out,” Ontiveros said. “I love everybody here.”

Best Dressed this year, Darrius Higby served as an emcee last year and was looking forward to being on stage as a contestant.

“I loved it so much last year I just wanted to compete, I loved doing this and it was great all around,” Higby said.

Mr. Photogenic, Nico Franzia said the preparation and timing was tough, as he and fellow contestant Jamin Miller had to rush over from a baseball game to be there for the pageant.

“It was just a thrill and I enjoyed it a lot,” Franzia said. “I feel like I’m outgoing and I like doing stuff like this so I just had to be part of it.”

Taking home the People’s Choice award, Anthony Jones said he appreciated the energy the evening brought for himself, his fellow contestants and the crowd.

“I know this group is every energetic, we’re all very tight, a lot of us played football or play some kind of sports together,” Jones said. “It was just really fun.”

Teachers Su and Seth Davis oversee the EMT/First Responders Class that put the evening together and said they were pleased with the overall pageant.

“We had an amazing group of seniors this year, we had much more interest compared to last year, a very talented group, we had some good singers, some great musicians, a great panel of judges, lots of variety, we were able to get the U.S. Army in here so we were really happy about that,” Su Davis said. “A little chaotic behind the scenes this year but that’s what we do this for, to put pressure on them (students) so they learn to work through pressure, learn how to work as a team and no matter what is getting thrown at us, we need to keep moving forward on the script so they did a fantastic job, I’m really happy with how everything turned out. I’m proud of the students.”

Seth Davis added that though it is a fun evening, it gives students an opportunity to be put in different positions to be successful.

“This isn’t something that Escalon is used to, you know, we’re used to athletics, athletics, athletics, so to get kids out of their comfort zone and just help them grow and mature in different ways, putting on a production, setting things up, being professional,” Davis said. “I think it went really well so hopefully we can continue to grow off of it and keep doing good things for the kids.”

The evening was also a scholarship fundraiser for the EMT/First Responders program, Su Davis said, so the pageant is an opportunity “to teach students to use their talents to bring about good” for the community.

Stepping on to the stage during the beach wear modeling session was Jacob Beneux, one of 13 seniors seeking the title of Mr. Cougar in the March 22 pageant. Marg Jackson/The Times
Singing and playing his guitar, Jeremiah Reis performs during the talent portion of Friday night's Mr. Cougar pageant at Escalon High School. Marg Jackson/The Times
Jagger Scott displayed his juggling skills during the Friday night, March 22 Mr. Cougar pageant, one of 13 contestants who took the stage in the EHS theater. Marg Jackson/The Times