Miss Florida Pageant, without swimsuit competition, kicks off Wednesday

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The Miss Florida Pageant is not just a beauty contest and this year, pageant organizers are making that clear. But it's what's missing that will remind fans to pay attention to the women for who they are.

This year's pageant is being held at the R.P. Funding Center in Lakeland, Florida. The ladies take the stage starting Wednesday and the winner will be crowned Saturday night at the Youkey Theater.

Dozens of competitors from all over the state rehearsed their production numbers and went over final details Tuesday.

"There is always going to be a little nervousness running through me, but [I am] very excited," said Miss University of Florida Leah Roddenberry.

However, the ladies are not spending time preparing for a swimsuit portion. The event has been removed from the pageant.

The new executive director of the show, Keith Williams, has volunteered at pageants for 40 years. He has seen the shows - and attitudes toward them - evolve.  

"They're all aspiring to do something great, and they will," he said of the women who participate.

He said he still gets a thrill from working with the competitors and watching them come into their own.

"I think in this era, women want to be looked at for their ambition and their goals and their heart, not their body," said Miss Tampa Lauren Nielsen.

Last year, the winner walked away with $42,000 in college scholarships.

For a schedule events, and ticket information, visit www.missflorida.org.

This story has been corrected to identify Leah Roddenberry as Miss University of Florida.