Tiffany Seitz was sure she’d never win Miss Pennsylvania.
After all, the cards appeared to be stacked against her.
She found out she’d be competing just six weeks before the competition when another contestant was forced to drop out because of a conflict with school. Having placed first runner-up in the Miss Laurelwood competition last year, she was next in line to compete for Miss Pennsylvania.
She had only practiced her talent routine — which makes up 50% of her score — twice before the competition.
And, unlike many other contestants who have been competing since childhood, she has competed in pageants for only about two years.
Despite the obstacles — and much to her surprise — Seitz, 23, of Buffalo Township was named Miss Pennsylvania 2019 on June 15 in York. Seitz said that when they called her name, “I was like, ‘This is not real.’ I was shocked.”
She’ll go on to compete in the Miss America pageant. The date for that competition hasn’t been announced.
Becoming Miss Pennsylvania earned Seitz $8,000 in scholarship money and gives her a chance to discuss her platform, “Adoption Advocacy — Restoring Hope, Transforming Lives,” in addition to working with Miss America’s official charity, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“People don’t understand the impact that adoption has on people’s lives,” she said. “If I weren’t adopted, I wouldn’t be here.”
Seitz is no stranger to overcoming struggles.
She tested positive for cocaine when she was born and was separated from her birth family shortly after.
She began being fostered by a Freeport couple who already fostered three children through high school. She continued to be fostered by them until she was legally adopted.
Doctors told her parents she likely would have permanent damage from the cocaine and might not survive.
“She was very sick,” said Len Seitz, her father. “Doctors didn’t expect her to make her first birthday.”
Lori Seitz, her mother, decided to leave her job as a nurse and care for Tiffany full time, even homeschooling her through fifth grade.
“It was a very strong bonding time for her and I,” Lori Seitz said. “We were able to do a lot of things together.”
Both parents are overjoyed with their daughter winning the Miss Pennsylvania competition, but were disappointed they couldn’t see it in person because Lori Seitz was rushed into emergency surgery the same week.
“That kind of stole my heart, to see her come so far,” Lori Seitz said of her daughter winning.
“We were just elated,” Len Seitz said.
Despite her rough start, she went on to thrive and continues to push herself.
Seitz graduated from Evangel Heights Christian Academy in 2013 and Grove City College in 2017. A long-time dancer, she now teaches dance at Gwen’s School of Champions By: Natalie in Saxonburg and hopes to one day have her own studio.
Lori Seitz said it wasn’t always easy for Tiffany being an African-American child raised in a predominantly white area.
“She has broken every cultural boundary,” she said of her daughter. “I think that stuff is huge — Tiffany beats her own drum.”
Seitz said it was difficult dealing with racist stereotypes but she has remained focused on succeeding and proving them wrong.
“People don’t expect someone who looks like me to be well spoken or educated,” she said. “In my time in working and in going to school, I think I have broken a lot of those stereotypes.”
The Miss America competition was revamped last year following an email scandal in which male leaders insulted former Miss Americas, denigrating their appearance, intelligence and even their sex lives.
The competition began nearly 100 years ago in Atlantic City, N.J., as a bathing beauty contest designed to keep tourists coming to the seaside resort during the weekend after Labor Day.
“I think it’s moving in a positive direction,” she said. “I think eliminating the swimsuit competition was necessary.”
Seitz looks forward to the competition being more focused on hearing from the contestants on how they plan to use the platform to make a difference in their home state and the country.
“It doesn’t matter, in the end, what you look like in a swimsuit because, during your year of service, no one cares about that,” she said. “But they do care about the difference you’re making and the money you are raising for the cause you care about and how you plan to move the organization that you are representing forward.”