Miss Alabama 2013 has ties to Munford
by Will Heath and Shane Dunaway
For the past seven years, Chandler Champion has called the week leading up to the Miss Alabama competition “my favorite week of the year.”

“My pageant friends, I can name two of them who are going to be in my wedding one day,” Champion said. “You get to spend the week with 50 of the most amazing girls. It’s long, and you are of course very tired, but it’s well worth it.”

It certainly was for her, and for Leeds. The 20-year-old Leeds native, and the reigning Miss Leeds Area, Champion was crowned Miss Alabama Saturday night in Birmingham. She will vie for Miss America on Sept. 15, in Atlantic City.

“I’m still in shock,” she said Tuesday. “It was amazing – Saturday, when they called my name out, it was just complete shock. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I’ve been working toward this goal for seven years.”

Two Munford High School alums also had plenty of reason to celebrate following news of their daughter earning the title of Miss Alabama. Shane Champion and his wife, Debra, were in attendance as their daughter was crowned the 2013 Miss Alabama.

“We are very proud of her and she has worked very hard to prepare,” Shane Champion said. “It was a very busy week and there’s not much down time. We both stayed busy, but during the competition, we just prayed that she would do her best in each phase.”

Though the Champion family resides in Leeds, ties to the Munford community still remain. Shane and Debra Champion graduated from Munford High School in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and Wade Champion, Chandler Champion’s uncle, serves as a Munford town councilman.

“This has been her dream for a long time,” Shane Champion said. “We both support her in all her endeavors. She is very self-motivated and dedicated.”

While other alums of Miss Leeds have been named Miss Alabama in the past — the most recent was Deidre Downs in 2005, who eventually won Miss America — Champion is the first Leeds native to win since Paige Phillips (now Paige Parnell) in 1980.

Sandra McGuire, executive director of the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce, has been involved with Miss Leeds Area since the early ‘80s.

“My phone’s ringing off the hook,” McGuire said. “It’s just really exciting. I had a good feeling about her (Champion) all week long in the preliminary competitions. I knew she was prepared. We have been doing mock interviews, so I knew she was ready for it.

“Since the crowning, it’s been like a whirlwind for all of us.”

Champion won two of the preliminary competitions, in swimsuit and the talent portion. Her talent — ballet en pointe — was extra special, since she won it after falling outside her dorm room on Samford University’s campus (where contestants stayed during the competition).

“I was pretty upset,” she said. “I went out there and did my talent and won talent.

“So it has a nice little injury, but I’ll be OK.”

McGuire described the new Miss Alabama with superlatives that stretched beyond “OK.”

“Chandler’s worked very hard for this recognition,” she said. “She’s just a hard-working young lady who is very deserving of this. She is beautiful inside and out.”

Specifically, McGuire mentioned Champion’s platform — “Chandler’s Challenge: Reading is Believing … Don’t Stop Believing” — as a cause in her life, both inside and outside the competition.

“She’s definitely put that at the forefront of everything she’s done,” said McGuire. “It’s become a way of life for her, trying to reach out to the community.”

Champion herself said her proudest accomplishment during the process has been the renovation of the library at Birmingham’s Rushton School, which she described as a “storage/junk room” when she visited it.

“I went one day to give a speech and asked if I could see their library, and they only had a set of 1968 encyclopedias,” she said. “I had to start from scratch.”

Champion says the library currently has “1,500 books and counting,” and she has divided them into sections, and labeled each one individually with a label maker.

“The grand opening was in April, and I was so proud just to see it,” she said. “It was great to see so many of them fired up about it.”

The daughter of Shane and Debra Champion, Chandler’s partnership with her 10-year-old sister, Zoe’, made the week extra special.

“It was really special to have my sister on stage with me,” she said.

And the community around her was quick to embrace her, as well.

“(Saturday) night you go to a rotunda for a reception,” she said. “The room was shoulder to shoulder. It was one of those emotional moments where I realized how many people were there for me and how many people supported me.”

She can expect the support to continue.

“I can go ahead and tell you that any social media out there has completely blown up,” she said. “I went from 500 to 1,100 Instagram followers in one day. It’s insane. There’s no way I can catch up on it right this minute.

“It’s just great to see how many people are there for me. I’m so blessed to have such an amazing group of family and friends.”

Champion already has one assignment: she will serve as master of ceremonies for the 2013 Miss Leeds Area at the end of this month.

“Of course, I’ve already realized that it’s time to get to work, so I’m already doing that,” she said.

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com or contact Shane Dunaway at sdunaway@dailyhome.com.

© 2013