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When Autumn Loesch was a little girl, she didn’t miss the Florida Seafood Festival parade, even when the weather was not very inviting.
“I can remember begging my parents to sit and watch the parade, despite it being freezing outside, just so I could see the ‘queen’ lead the parade and in hopes that she would wave to me,” said the 17-year-old Franklin County High School senior.
Now a teenager, set to graduate in the spring, Loesch, the daughter of Natasha and JonPaul Loesch, of St. George Island. has been named Miss Florida Seafood in a very close race among the five FCHS girls who took part.
Selected as runner-up was FCHS senior Kelsey Martina, 17, daughter of Gary and Jamie Martina, of Eastpoint. Completing the field were FCHS senior Skylar Layne, 17, daughter of John and Danielle Layne, of Apalachicola; FCHS junior Alexcia McNair, 16, daughter of Deiara Prince and Jordan McNair, and granddaughter of Nissie and Willie McNair, of Apalachicola; and FCHS senior Jennifer Nolen, 17, daughter of James Nolen.
“It was an extremely tight race,” said Christina Collins, the 2012 Miss Florida Seafood who now serves as treasurer of the festival. “The point difference between first and second was seven-tenths of a point, and the difference between first and third 1.7 points. All of the girls did a great job and we are so happy that they participated this year.”
While Miss Florida Seafood has traditionally been selected at a pageant in late summer, dating back to the mid-1960s when large numbers of girls competed, the festival went this year with an alternate process, something the festival opted for last year, as well as in 2016, as participation has lessened.
Instead, the three out-of-town judges relied entirely on interviews, which is always the major portion of the scoring when it includes competition in attire, poise and appearance.
Serving as judges were Shawn Yao, director of forensic services at the Criminal Investigation Bureau for the Tallahassee Police Department, who has been a judge for Miss Florida Seafood 1998.
Joining him were two television personalities, Madison Glaser, the weekend morning anchor and a news reporter at WCTV in Tallahassee, and Jessica Foster, the morning anchor for News Channel 7 Today WJHG in Panama City.
Joining Loesch to oversee as royalty for the Nov. 4 and 5 festival will be her great-uncle Chris Howard, of Eastpoint, a long-time worker in the seafood industry who the festival board of directors has chosen. Howard started out as an oysterman and fisherman at age 13, and later became vice president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association. He has worked with the Florida Department of Agriculture replanting the bays with shells all the way to Pensacola, and now drives a truck hauling seafood for Barber’s Seafood.
“I’m excited and I’m honored I get to play a role in my community,” said Loesch, who is active at the high school as secretary and treasurer of the National Honor Society, a member of Beta Club, president of the Student Government Association and a player on the Lady Seahawk volleyball team. Last year she was Miss Seahawk.
“The Florida Seafood Festival is an event I’ve always looked forward to. Getting to attend this year as Miss Florida Seafood is a dream come true,” she said. “I really go just for the fun rides, the delicious seafood and to support our class booths.”
Loesch comes from a long line of people who have taken part in the seafood industry such as oystering, fishing, shrimping, crabbing and even delivering seafood.
“Working at The Station raw bar has provided me so much insight into our seafood agriculture,” she said. “Getting to represent as Miss Florida Seafood is an absolute honor and I hope I inspire and provide memories for all the younger girls just as all the past queens did for me. I’m ready to have a great time.”
Loesch, older sister to FCHS freshman Hailey Loesch, is currently enrolled at Gulf Coast State College, pursuing her associate’s degree. After that she plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and sports medicine at Florida State University.