Saline County's two representatives at the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Pageant in Hot Springs won preliminary awards Wednesday night in the pageant's first public competition.
Bethany Whitfield of Bryant, competing as Miss Greater Little Rock, won the talent award with her vocal presentation of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from "West Side Story." Technically, the award now is known as "Preliminary Artistic Expression in Talent Award."
Tracy Neal of Bryant, competing as Miss University of Arkansas, tied for the evening gown award. That honor is classified as the "Preliminary Presence and Poise in Evening Gown Award."
Tying with Neal for the evening gown honor were Sloane Roberts, Miss South Arkansas; and Lauren Howell, Miss South Arkansas.
Also winning a preliminary honor Wednesday was Helen Wisner, Miss White River, who won the swimsuit award. That is known as the "Preliminary Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit Award."
Neal, by phone, commented today on the Wednesday night competition.
"It was wonderful and amazing to receive recognition, and be honored for my presence and poise in evening gown," she said. " I was honored to be selected. It was an amazing moment for them to see my confidence shine through on stage."
She will appear tonight in talent competition.
Noting that contestants seek encouragement, she said she would "appreciate people people sending encouraging and positive thoughts and prayers" her way.
Each of the preliminary winners receives an $800 scholarship provided by The Hatcher Agency, an anonymous donor and Venue.
Emcee and the pageant's former executive director, Rick Pruitt, along with Miss Arkansas 2011 Kristen Glover of Stuttgart, presented the awards.
Scheduled to join Pruitt tonight with emcee duties is Miss Arkansas 2004, Lacy Fleming Glover.
Glover resides in Conway with her husband, Sam, and their 2-year-old daughter, Kate. Glover, a native of Hampton, captured the title of Miss Arkansas as Miss Ouachita Baptist University. She performed a vocal to "Last Dance" for her talent presentation and was third runner-up in the 2005 Miss America Pageant.
Whitfield, 23, is a second-year law Student at the University of Arkansas. Her platform is "Manage: Personal Finance for Practical Living." She is the daughter of Donald and Tanya Whitfield.
Neal, 22, is a second-year graduate student at the University of Arkansas. She promotes breast cancer research under the platform "Pink Courage: Fighting for the Cure."
She is the daughter of Todd and Tonya Neal.
Also competing in the pageant is Erin Larsen of Conway, Miss Central Arkansas. She is the daughter of Dr. Brent and Danise Larsen, formerly of Benton, and the granddaughter of Claude and Maxine Coffey and Dub and Patricia Larsen, all of Benton.
Larsen competed in swimsuit competition Wednesday and is scheduled for the evening gown phase tonight.
Roberts, a Rison resident, is a 19-year-old student at the University of Arkansas. Her platform is "Love Always Hopes – Preventing Child Abduction."
Howell, 22, is a student at University of Central Arkansas. She promotes "Giving Children Hope through A Smile." She is from Conway.
Wisner, 23, is a graduate of the University of Arkansas Graduate School. She is from North Little Rock.
The 2012 Miss Arkansas Pageant is themed “75 and Feelin’ Good ” and celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Pageant. This year’s show features 47 contestants from throughout he state in competition for more than $86,000 in college and university scholarship funds.
For the fifth year, Alpha Awards were presented for each phase of competition. These are presented to first-time Miss Arkansas contestants who garner the most points in their respective groups each night.
Alpha Award winners receive $100 scholarships from the Miss Arkansas Executive Director Association.
Alpha Award winners Wednesday night were:
•Miss Ouachita Baptist University MaryLacey Thomason (Artistic Expression in Talent).
•Miss Three Rivers Courtney Welsh and Miss Greater Hot Springs Samantha Hudon (Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit).
•Miss Southeast Arkansas Mary Ellen Hunthrop (Presence and Poise in Evening Gown).
Thomason is 21 and a student at Ouachita Baptist University.
Welsh is 18 and a student at the University of Mississippi.
Hudon , 20, is a student at the University of Central Arkansas.
Hunthrop, 22, is a student at the University of Central Arkansas.
A new award given this year is the Service Before Self award. It will be awarded each night with a scholarship in the amount of $250. It honors a Hot Springs civic organization that has been instrumental in the Miss Arkansas Pageant's success.
The organization honored Wednesday was the Hot Springs Ambassador Club. The winning contestant was Miss Northwest Arkansas, Sarah Elise Gafvert.
The newly crowned Miss Arkansas’ Outstanding Teen 2012 Laura Leigh Turner of North Little Rock, was on hand tonight and performed with the other local Outstanding Teen title holders.
Competition continues with preliminaries beginning at 7 p.m. today and Friday. Final competition is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday and includes the naming of the Top 10 semifinalists.
A pre-show tribute to Buddy Coleman and the Coleman Family (namesake of the Overall Talent Award) will begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
The reigning Miss Arkansas and Miss America Quality of Life finalist Kristen Glover is scheduled to crown the new Miss Arkansas.
For tickets to the remainder of preliminary competitions or the final night, go to www.ticketmaster.com  or visit the Summit Arena box office. For more information about the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Pageant, visit www.missarkansas.org .
Those unable to attend in person may view the pageant live at www.misssarkansas.org .