Assistant principal captures second Mrs. Pennsylvania title
LATROBE--While seniors at Greater Latrobe High School were preparing their mortarboards for commencement exercises this year, their assistant principal was getting used to her new crown.
Georgia Teppert, for the second time in three years, captured a Mrs. Pennsylvania title--this time at a May 12 competition in Millersville, near Lancaster.
Teppert, who has been assistant principal at GLHS for two years, topped a field of a dozen entrants in the Mrs. Pennsylvania International pageant. She will go on to vie with 70 winners from other states and countries for the overall Mrs. International title in August.
Two years earlier, the former health and physical education instructor won the Greensburg-based Mrs. Pennsylvania United States pageant and went on to receive the physical fitness award at that separate organization's national finals in Las Vegas.
Teppert, 35, said the competitions have fulfilled her need to challenge herself and her desire to provide service to the community.
'I like to compete,' she said. 'And (the pageants) gave me an arena to do that.
'It gives me goals for improving myself other than in my career.'
According to a release from state director Lili Kohr, the Mrs. Pennsylvania International pageant recognizes 'the virtues of family, professional and community involvement among married women.'
'It's not your typical beauty pageant,' Teppert said. 'This system concentrates on community service.'
At this year's state pageant, all contestants donated items for a baby bundle charity drive. Each also had a minute to describe a platform they intended to promote if they were selected as Mrs. Pennsylvania.
An interview counted for 33 percent of her score in the Mrs. United States pageant, Teppert noted, with swimsuit and evening gown competitions comprising the other two-thirds.
In comparison, she said, interviews with five different judges on a variety of topics, including her platform, generated fully half of her score in the running for Mrs. Pennsylvania International.
In her winning platform, Teppert is tackling a subject close to home: school violence.
In her role of assistant principal, Teppert is directly involved in handling disciplinary problems at GLHS.
She and the rest of the high school staff have embraced an approach which attempts to steer youngsters away from bad behavior, including violence, by helping them obtain a set of up to 40 'developmental assets.'
'It's a way of reaching kids so that they have less of a chance of becoming involved in high-risk behavior,' Teppert said of the approach, developed by the non-profit Search Institute of Minneapolis.
Teppert said the school's goal, in conjunction with family and community members, is to 'give youths the support and structure for external assets'--such as caring adults they can confide in and involvement in school-related activities.
'Then we hope they will develop internal assets themselves'--for instance, the ability to resolve conflicts peacefully and a motivation to learn.
As Mrs. Pennsylvania, Teppert will have the opportunity to spread the asset development concept far beyond the walls of GLHS.
She presented her anti-violence platform to 225 area high school students at the recent Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership seminar at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
Teppert added that she would like to arrange a meeting with Gov. Tom Ridge to discuss her thoughts on combating youth violence.
She is also hoping to take her platform beyond Pennsylvania to other states and to a national audience. 'The (Mrs. Pennsylvania) title gives you a little bit of an edge to get into a variety of communities as well as social organizations,' she noted.
Her ultimate goal would be a face-to-face chat on the topic with First Lady Laura Bush, who is a former educator. Teppert noted the first couple may have a different perspective on school violence from the vantage of Pennsylvania Avenue: 'They see the entire nation.'
In addition, Teppert will use her pageant title to support the Candlelighters, a Maryland-based charity which provides emotional and financial support to the families of children who are battling cancer.
Teppert noted she became acquainted with the group's work during her tenure as Mrs. Pennsylvania United States and has continued a relationship with the organization's area chapter.
In preparation for the Candlelighters' annual Westmoreland County Christmas party last year, Teppert recruited GLHS students to help wrap hundreds of presents for young cancer patients and their siblings.
Without their involvement, she noted, the event's lone organizer 'would have spent months wrapping presents.'
Teppert also will participate in the local Candlelighters' annual picnic July 22 at Twin Lakes Park.
During her earlier reign as Mrs. Pennsylvania United States, Teppert noted she handled a wide array of assignments--including parade appearances, speaking at scholarship dinners and serving as a judge for other organization's pageants.
The Scottdale native also returned to her alma mater, the Southmoreland School District, to speak about the importance of literacy.
Teppert graduated from the district in 1983 and obtained her education degree from Slippery Rock University.
She now resides in Unity Township with her husband, Ernest, a territory supervisor in industrial sales.
Before coming to GLHS, Georgia Teppert taught at Southmoreland and at the private Valley School in Ligonier. She also coached various sports and cheerleading squads.
She previously served as an assistant principal at high schools in Richland, Ligonier Valley and Laurel Valley.
Teppert first was drawn to the world of pageantry during her sophomore year in college. 'I was very young and naive,' she recalled of her first run for the Miss America title, competing as Miss Slippery Rock.
A strong competitor in gymnastics, Teppert naturally decided to showcase her skills in that sport during the talent phase of the pageant.
But she was stopped short of the Miss Pennsylvania title during that attempt and also failed to advance when she entered again at age 26.
Having channeled her drive into her education career, Teppert was again ready in 1999 to vie for the votes of pageant judges. This time she would benefit from added maturity and the experience that comes from balancing career and spousal responsibilities.
Besides, she noted, 'There aren't any competitions for gymnasts when you're 33 years old.'
Teppert decided to try her luck in the Mrs. Pennsylvania United States pageant after a friend sent her an application.
It was a rebuilding year for the pageant organization after it had received some unwelcome press--for alleged rigging of the contest results.
'Sometimes pageants get bad raps, and sometimes they deserve to,' Teppert said.
By the time she applied as a contestant, the pageant had been moved from eastern Pennsylvania and had been taken over by a new director in Greensburg.
'If there was any year that it would be on the up and up, it would have to be the year right after the scandal,' she reasoned.
She was encouraged when she won her first title as Mrs. Pennsylvania. But she was disappointed by her overall placement at the Mrs. United States finals--11th out of 52 contestants.
She said, 'I took a year off to think about it. Then I decided I was going to give it one more shot.'
She discovered a new option in the Mrs. International organization, applying at the last minute after she was able to work the event into her schedule at GLHS.
Teppert explained she was able to take the early shift chaperoning at the GLHS prom. After helping to oversee the Grand March, she and her husband began the long drive to the Lancaster area.
'We got out there at 2 a.m. Saturday and I didn't get any sleep,' she recalled. 'Then I had to get up at 6 a.m. for my interview.'
'The interview is the most challenging, but also the most enjoyable part of the competition for me,' Teppert said.
She and four other contestants entered the interview room as a group and rotated among five judges for a series of five-minute grillings.
'It takes some concentration,' Teppert noted. 'You can be asked anything.'
To prepare herself, 'I go through numerous mock interviews with my husband, my girlfriends, my parents and my sisters.'
She also bones up on current events, which may be thrown out as questions to determine how knowledgeable contestants are of global issues.
Though she admitted geography is not her strong subject, Teppert was able to handle a question combining that field and current events during the interview section of the 1999 Mrs. Pennsylvania United States pageant.
'The question was, if you got into a plane in Italy and flew to Kosovo, what direction would you be going?' She arrived at the correct answer: east.
While Teppert focused much of her attention on being mentally prepared for the recent Mrs. Pennsylvania pageant, she was aware that appearances would be just as important.
She explained judges visually assess each contestant's physical fitness while they model aerobic workout gear--an element which determines 25 percent of the total score.
'It's totally non-exploitative,' she said. She noted contestants choose one of four styles of garb, which she said are more conservatively tailored than the swimsuits modeled in many other pageants.
'I wore a turquoise bike-otard,' she said, noting the outfit, which may be worn by cyclists, is a one-piece tank top combined with shorts.
Teppert noted she maintains a physical fitness and diet regimen year-round.
She begins her day with a cross-training workout at home--getting up at 5 a.m. when school is in session, at 6 a.m. during the summer months.
'I eat a well-balanced diet, but I watch the carbohydrates,' she explained.
'I'm Italian and I love breads and pasta.'
When a pageant appearance is approaching, 'I just work out a little bit more intensely and watch what I eat more closely.'
Before the final evening gown phase of the Mrs. Pennsylvania competition, which accounted for the remaining 25 percent of the score, Teppert had a chance to mingle with her fellow contestants.
'Ninety-nine percent of the women are great,' she said, noting two of the competitors--from Altoona and Erie--were acquaintances from previous pageant events.
Teppert wore a borrowed periwinkle blue dress and her husband wore a tux as he escorted her across the auditorium stage at Millersville University.
She ended with a speech describing her platform. 'You have one minute to condense your platform and say what you would do if you would win the title,' she noted.
'It has to do with the fit, not the expense,' Teppert said of the gown choice. 'When I won the Mrs. Pennsylvania United States title, the gown I wore cost me $35.'
Nevertheless, Teppert is sparing no expense in preparations for the upcoming Mrs. International finals pageant.
It will be held Aug. 13 at the Louise Mandrell Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Longtime game show host Bob Eubanks has been tapped as the master of ceremonies.
'The competition will be much steeper,' Teppert said. So, 'I'm going to start from scratch.'
She has planned a trip to Virginia to confer with a professional pageant wardrobe consultant.
She hopes to seek out the perfect gown that will make her stand out from the rest of the crowd.
During the on-stage portions of a pageant, Teppert said, 'I couldn't tell you if there are 1,000 people or 10 people in the audience. I'm focused on myself.'
But one particular audience member she missed was her grandfather, Waddy Grippo Sr. of Tarrs. He recently passed away at the age of 86.
'I was very close to him,' she said. 'He came out to every pageant and kept me in line.'
In addition to faithful family members and friends she has made on the pageant circuit, Teppert can count staff and students at Latrobe among her newest supporters.
Jeff Duda, a broadcasting instructor at GLHS, has been helping Teppert prepare a video documenting her activities as Mrs. Pennsylvania. She will submit it as part of the required elements of the finals competition.
Teppert noted her win sparked interest in entering pageants among some of the young girls attending GLHS.
She said, 'I try to encourage them,' while also urging them to be cautious.
'I tell them they shouldn't try to turn themselves into something they're not' for the sake of a pageant. 'They just need to be careful and find what (pageant) system would be best for them.'
In recent years, Teppert's activities have included judging young women who are competing in local qualifying pageants for the Miss America system.
However, unlike the common stereotype many have about such contests and those who enter them, Teppert discovered, 'These were very well-educated, well-spoken and well-rounded women. They seemed to have their acts in line.'
While 'I know you never say never,' Teppert has pledged to herself that August's event will be her last shot at a national pageant title.
She said, 'My goal is to win. But if I can at least make the top five or become a finalist, I can increase the number of contacts I can make for promoting my platform.'
'If I don't win, I'm hanging it up,' she added. 'I think it will be a sign to me that 'Your day's over.' '
In coming years, she noted, she has priorities in mind other than pageants: possibly starting a family with her husband or pursuing a doctorate degree.