Aug. 24, 2012

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Hugs aplenty for new state fair queen

By Tom Campbell

Mariah Huff
Mariah Huff will be the second Purdue Agriculture student to serve as Indiana State Fair queen since 2011, when Sara Alford, reigned.  (Photo provided)

Sunday, Aug. 19, was an eventful day for Purdue junior Mariah Huff — maybe the most eventful in her just-a-hair-under-21-year life.

Early that afternoon, on the eve of her 21st birthday, Huff was crowned queen of the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. The Brownstown, Ind., native will reign through the 2013 queen contest at the conclusion of next year’s state fair.

Later that night, Huff drove to campus to start the fall semester, although you couldn’t convince her that she didn’t float all the way back to West Lafayette. Between those two events, Huff may have set a one-day record for hugs.

“There were 86 other contestants up on the stage,” Huff said, “and I think I hugged every one of them.”

With the first day of fall classes the next day, Huff had little time to celebrate with family and friends in Indianapolis.

“I think I got back to campus around 10 p.m. When I got back to my sorority house (Alpha Chi Omega), the lights were out. I opened the door, and my 85 sorority sisters jumped up and congratulated me. I think I hugged each one of them, too.”

Not a bad day for someone who had never entered her county fair pageant until this year.

“I’ve never tried out because I was always highly involved in 4-H and FFA,” Huff said. “I felt like I never had time. Everyone would tell me, ‘Oh, you should try it out. Just do it.’”

So she made the best of her last chance this summer.

“I thought I might as well. I didn’t want to regret not doing it for the rest of my life.”

When she made the most of her opportunity by being crowned Jackson County fair queen this summer, the regrets vanished.

“Winning my county queen competition was awesome. I’m really glad I decided to give it a try.”

She harbored no dreams of winning in Indianapolis. Huff was happy just to be among the 10 finalists.

But about the time the second runner-up was announced, Huff started to get a little nervous.

“My heart started beating really fast. Then they called first runner-up, and for a second I was thinking maybe it could be me,” Huff said.

From there, the rest of the weekend became a blur.

“When they called my name, my face dropped and I couldn’t breathe,” Huff said. “It was such a strange feeling. I don’t even know how to describe it. You hear your name being called up on that big stage with all the lights and 2,500 people in the audience, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do?’ I think my eyes teared up. It was the greatest feeling ever.”

Next thing Huff knew it was Monday. Classes started, but her fairy tale didn’t end.

“I certainly wasn’t ready for classes,” Huff said. “By the time I got a chance to look at my phone, I had 75 messages. It’s crazy hectic, but it’s so much fun.”

Mariah Huff campus
Mariah Huff has hopes of becoming a high school agriculture teacher after earning her Purdue degree in agricultural education in 2014. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

Among the 75 messages was one from her third-grade teacher, Linda Clark.

“I haven’t talked to her in years,” said Huff. “She congratulated me and wants to get together for lunch sometime. It’s so cool that she remembers me after all these years.”

The conversation will no doubt feature many congratulations and maybe even a discussion regarding Huff’s future.

“One of my goals is to become a high school agriculture teacher or do something in the corporate world promoting agriculture with an emphasis on youth development.”

And there will probably be a few hugs, too.

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