At the 52nd annual Miss Wantagh pageant on June 29, Ashley Bailey, 17, was the last of six contestants to introduce herself to the crowd at Wantagh High School.
After describing her dream job of becoming an FBI special agent, she talked about her relationships with her family and her five siblings, including her brother Ryan, who has autism, and her sister Kayla, who has autism and Down syndrome.
Whenever her sister tries to speak to family members in public using American Sign Language, Bailey explained, they see judgmental glares from those who don’t understand Kayla’s condition. Bailey also faced her own struggles with bullying throughout elementary school and high school, she said.
“I was bullied horribly because of my weight, and by being in special ed,” she said. “I was hurt by their actions, but because of my upbringing, I rose above it.”
On July Fourth, at Wantagh Elementary School, Bailey was named Miss Wantagh 2018.
According to Director Ella Stevens, the pageant focuses on community service and academic achievement. Each year, she joked, it is her committee’s goal to make choosing a winner an almost impossible task for the judges. Now it will be her job, she added, to make sure Bailey and her court get to work on making the community a better place.
“I expect Miss Wantagh to open doors that she has not seen before,” Stevens said, “and I expect her court to follow suit.”
This fall, Bailey will have to juggle her responsibilities while attending Wantagh High School and the Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center — also known as GC Tech — in Levittown. There she is finishing a two-year police science and emergency medical technician program. When she graduates, she will be a certified security guard and an EMT.
One of this year’s pageant judges, Wantagh Boy Scout leader Anthony Fillizola, acknowledged that it was a tight race among the six finalists for the crown. But Bailey’s commitment to service and her story of perseverance, Fillizola added, stood out.
“Whether it was poise or public service, I think she did a great job,” he said. “It really came down to her speech and what she said she was going to do if she won.”
Miss Wantagh is required to undertake a community service project, and Bailey plans to create a social club that will help children and teenagers with disabilities develop social skills. With the help of her court, the club would bring together those with and without disabilities for social outings, such as bowling and dinners, to make new friends in the community and promote inclusivity.
She credited her interest in helping victims of bullying and harassment, especially those with disabilities, to her father, Wade, who died in 2013, when Ashley was only 13. Her father, a WHS alumnus, used to tell stories about how he and his friends stood up to bullies at the high school.
Nearly four years after her father’s death, she recalled, she did what he would have done when she saw a fellow student being bullied. Bailey persuaded the Wantagh student body to show solidarity with the victim by wearing red, the boy’s favorite color. The movement spread to the middle and elementary schools, she said, and ultimately stopped the bully.
“When he passed,” she said of her father, “I made a promise to myself that I would keep his legacy of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and even those who could stand up for themselves, just by being a friend they can depend on.”
After Bailey’s coronation ceremony at Wantagh Elementary, she embraced her family members on the steps outside. “It doesn’t feel real,” she said. “It’s an honor, honestly. I know my dad is looking down on me and going, ‘That’s my girl.’”