New method for picking a queen

A new Strawberry Queen will soon be selected from among the five finalists named last week. From left: Michelle Rosnack, Colleen Schutt, Veronica Stelzer, all of Mattituck, and 2009 queen Tracy Orlando, Katie Schelin and Lauren Salmery, all of Southold. The next queen will start her reign during the Mattituck Lions Strawberry Festival on Father’s Day weekend.

Continuing a June tradition better than a half-century old, the Mattituck Lions Club will shortly crown a new Strawberry Queen. But how she’ll be chosen is definitely a break with the past.

Responding to concerns that the competition is really a beauty pageant and that winners must be somehow connected to the Lions, the club now selects three out-of-town judges to pick the finalists, said club member Joe Doohry. One of the judges, Albert Rizzi of Smithtown, is blind.

“The girls were very happy to hear that one of the judges was blind because it reinforces what we’ve been saying — that this is not a beauty contest,” said Mr. Doohry.

The club contacted Mr. Rizzi through Guide Dogs for the Blind, one of the groups that the Lions have supported. The other preliminary judges this year are Katharine Fritz, director of development for the guide dog organization, and Dennis Yuen of the Maureen’s Haven homeless shelter program

The queen selection process has been under review for several years, said Mr. Doohry. He said he learned during a visit to Mattituck High School’s guidance office of the perception that it’s all about looks.

“It’s about inner beauty, not how you look,” said Mr. Doohry. “It’s about what you’ve done for the community and what you plan to do.”

Switching to a panel of outside judges to make the first cuts — this year from 16 down to five — addresses the fairness question.

“We don’t use any local judges,” Mr. Doohry said. “That way nobody has an advantage over anyone else. We want the girls to know that it’s done fairly.”

Prior to the election, the girls went from table to table to introduce themselves. Each girl was asked to answer a question provided ahead of time: “Helen Keller once said the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. What do you think she meant by this?”

The voting is limited to Lions Club members and their spouses, either the parents or two guests of each finalist and the three preliminary judges.

The Lions are moving toward excluding high school seniors from the competition and limiting it to sophomores and juniors.

“If a senior is selected, she’s often not available to represent the club and parades and other public functions,” said Mr. Doohry. “We want to give everybody two years to apply.”

Final voting on the queen took place during a dinner sponsored by Long Island University at Vineyard Caterers. The winner and two runners-up will be named during the Strawberry Festival at Strawberry Fields on Route 48 in Mattituck over the Fathers’ Day weekend.

[email protected]