Miss Hesperia 2009, Tara Washburn, got a late start in the pageant game.

She didn't follow the lead of her younger cousins into pageantry until after she had graduated from high school.

Currently studying nursing at Victor Valley College and California State University San Bernardino, Washburn is a 2006 graduate of Sultana High School, where she participated in sports medicine, yearbook and the school's ASB program.

Since graduating, she's made three tries for the title of Miss Hesperia. It wasn't until her final year of eligibility (she's 21 years old) that she finally claimed the Miss Hesperia sash for her own.

"[Losing] was hard, but when your friends are still doing it, it makes it still OK," she said. "You get so close with your coordinators, other competitors sand your friends, it almost becomes addicting. ... And having your friends win makes it fun, too."

In the meantime, she won other titles -- she's currently in the middle of her second year as Miss Victor Valley -- which prepares Washburn for her year as Miss Hesperia.

"We do a lot of events for the city. We've done Easter egg hunts for Victorville. We do parades. We do Christmas tree lightings."

And she also had the chance to see what pageants -- and the girls that compete in them -- are really like.

"All the TV shows about pageants do not help our cause at all," she laughed. "It's basically about natural beauty [in the Empire Pageants system]. If you go on stage and you're not natural, you won't do well."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.

2009 Miss Hesperia Royalty

Miss Hesperia: Tara Washburn
Teen Miss Hesperia: Lizeth Molina
Pre-Teen Miss Hesperia: Heather Eddy
Junior Miss Hesperia: Mary Gutierrez
Pixie Miss Hesperia: Model Shaw
Toddler Miss Hesperia: River Perez