Queens Photo

Effingham residents Courtney Koester (left) and Bayleigh Stockman pose in evening wear during the Miss Illinois USA Pageant in Bloomington.

By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
The dreams of two local women that competed for Miss Illinois — with the hope of making it to the Miss USA Pageant — did not come true this year.
But there is always next year.
Effingham residents Courtney Koester and Bayleigh Stockman spent Labor Day weekend competing for the title of Miss Illinois USA at the annual pageant, which was held this year on the campus of Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal.
During the three-day competition, both women participated in a variety of pageant events, including evening wear, swimsuit and interview portions of the competition. And although neither of the two women made it past the preliminary round to the Top 16, both women were proud of their performances.
“Of course, I wish the outcome was better. But the experience was great,” said Koester. “Although we didn’t bring anything home, we met a lot of really awesome, beautiful and talented women.”
Stockman, who hopes to participate in next year’s pageant, said the experience gave her the opportunity to see what the pageant was all about.
“I am new to this. Now I know what to work on, and I hopefully will win next year,” said Stockman, who added many of the women in the competition were seasoned and competed in pageants year round.
Although both Koester and Stockman have experience in pageants, all their experience is at the local level. Koester participated for Effingham County Junior Miss Fair Queen in 2004 and Effingham County Fair Queen in 2010, while Stockman participated in the Effingham County Fair Queen pageants in 2015 and 2016.
But, both agreed the Miss Illinois USA pageant — where the winner advances to compete in the Miss USA pageant — was much different than the hometown competitions.
“It was a little intimidating,” said Koester. “You are put in a vulnerable state because for a lot of these girls who do compete at this level, it is like a second job for them. So they have a lot of experience.”
To participate in the pageant, both women completed an application for the statewide competition, with the process beginning in February. Once selected, the participants had to prepare for the different events in the competition, which included the swimsuit competition where contestants are judged on fitness.
“It was more or less a marathon, not a sprint, when you are at the state level,” said Koester. “You have to make sure you are ready. It was a challenge, both physically and mentally, which is why I wanted to do this pageant.”
Stockman, who still has hopes and dreams of becoming Miss USA, said the confidence she gained this year is what will continue to drive her to participate in upcoming pageants.
“I definitely am a determined person,” she said. “I will try harder, and I hope to win it next year.”
Koester has not decided if she will participate again next year; however, she believes pageants are full of life lessons.
“Dealing with reject is something good to experience,” said Koester. “Even though it is hard to swallow right now, rejection is a good life lesson and a valuable life lesson.”
Koester encourages other women from Effingham and the surrounding areas to consider participating in the competition, in hopes the central and southern areas of the state will be better represented.
“I believe bringing awareness to downstate is important,” said Koester, adding most of the contestants are from the Chicago area.
Koester, who is a 2009 St. Anthony High School graduate, is the daughter of Carl and Deanna Koester, of Effingham.
Stockman, who is a 2014 graduate of Effingham High School, is the daughter of Jeanlyn and Steve Stockman, of Effingham.