Mohegan Sun, Miss America Organization announce three-year deal

Brian Hallenbeck, The Day, New London, Conn.
·3 min read

Apr. 8—MOHEGAN — After a coronavirus-induced hiatus in 2020, the Miss America competition will return to Mohegan Sun in December for the first of at least three more annual competitions at the casino, officials announced at a press conference Thursday.

A December date for the 2021 competition has been tentatively set, but the parties involved declined to reveal it, citing unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and other, unspecified factors.

Shantel Krebs, president and chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization, a nonprofit that in recent years has focused on awarding scholarships and promoting and empowering women, said Mohegan Sun's success in safely operating during the pandemic was a major factor in the organization's decision to continue its relationship with the casino.

Mohegan Sun closed for 11 weeks at the outset of the pandemic, starting in mid-March 2020, and partially reopened June 1. Since then, it has been gradually extending the reopening to more parts of the property.

In December 2019, Mohegan Sun hosted a week's worth of preliminary Miss America events as well as the finals of the competition, which NBC aired live in prime time.

"Following the success of the Miss America 2020 competition in December 2019, we knew we had created something very special here in Connecticut, and we're thrilled to host Miss America events and competitions for the next three years," Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun's president and general manager, said. "Miss America will now become one of Mohegan Sun's largest annual events in terms of size, scope, reach ..."

He said Mohegan Sun's relationship with the Miss America Organization ranks among its "key partnerships" with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., a sponsor of events the casino has long hosted; Yale New Haven Health, the Mohegan Tribe's health care partner; and ViacomCBS, which during the pandemic began producing and televising boxing and mixed martial arts events without audiences in the Mohegan Sun Arena "bubble."

Following the press conference, Hamilton said Mohegan Sun also hopes to bring Barrett-Jackson's annual Northeast collector car auction back to Mohegan Sun in 2022. That nationally televised, multi-day attraction, which drew large crowds to the entire casino property during a four-year run from 2016 through 2019, was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

"It can't happen this year because of the (COVID-19) environment but we want to bring it back in 2022. It takes up the whole venue," Hamilton said.

Mohegan Sun and the Miss America Organization are a good fit because of their shared values, speakers at the press conference said.

Hamilton noted that two of Mohegan Sun's top five executives are women and that women have long held positions of tribal leadership, notably Lynn Malerba, a former tribal council chairwoman and currently the tribe's chief for life.

"We don't call it a pageant," Hamilton said of the Miss America competition. "It's a job interview to head an organization."

Patricia LaPierre, a tribal council member and former Mohegan Sun vice president, said the tribe has been built on a strong foundation of female leadership that dates to the late 1800s. She noted the Connecticut Sun, the tribe's WNBA team, plays its home games in Mohegan Sun Arena, virtually next door to the site of the press conference, the Cabaret Theatre.

Krebs said the Miss America Organization, which this fall will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the crowning of the first Miss America, has been awarding women scholarships since the 1940s.

Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier of Virginia, won a $50,000 scholarship to continue her pursuit of a doctoral degree and earned a six-figure salary while traveling the country during her year of service.

Winners of individual state competitions will compete in the Miss America competition. Both the Miss Connecticut and the Miss Connecticut's Outstanding Teen competitions will take place this weekend at Mohegan Sun.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com