It’s Feb. 26, and the crowd at the West Valley High School auditorium bursts into raucous laughter as yet another contestant incorporates the mysterious “Doug” into his answer for the question segment.
This time it’s senior Austin Bradford. When asked what his favorite candy was, he replied: “Well, we all know Doug is the sweetest thing you can be.”
For the lucky few seated onstage and a small selection of close friends in the crowd, Doug is not the enigma he seems. He is, in fact, another contestant: Graham Stoddard, whose middle name is Douglas.
The joke began years ago when some of Graham’s closest friends uncovered his middle name. Once the boys in the pageant discovered this, they acted as though Doug was another individual, when in fact he was simply Graham, which became a running joke that carried itself all the way onto the stage of the auditorium.
This running joke was just one of the incredible moments throughout the 2014 edition of the Mr. West Valley pageant. And “Doug” would play prominently all the way through to the conclusion of the night.
The always popular pageant never fails to fill the auditorium to the brim with excited teenagers, proud family members and entertained members of the community.
The lead-up to the festivities began all the way back on Dec. 13, when the contestants, all senior boys, were announced in a ceremony during a pep assembly. The nominees were Austin Bradford, Mark Day, Ryan Engquist, Jordan Godoy, Casey Johnston, Jordan Kent, Michael “Mike” Layman, Jorge Mendoza, Ryan Ross, Sam Soliday, Graham Stoddard and Jace VanDeBrake.
From there, this dedicated group of talented young men raised almost $25,000 for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital and Children’s Village through the Youthworks program, doing everything from serving frozen yogurt at the Yogurt Shack on Valentine’s Day to playing basketball against the staff of West Valley High School.
The basketball game generated quite a bit of money because students were allowed to pay to take shots on behalf of the boys. By the grace of the student body, especially one senior named Griffin Thurlby who plays varsity basketball for the school, the Mr. West Valley contestants won the game.
On Feb. 21, the contestants even took over Zesta Cucina for a night, selling appetizers and waiting tables with all the grace and goofiness characteristic of these young men.
On the night of the actual pageant, the school’s large auditorium buzzed with excitement and anticipation. Everybody wanted to see what was in store, and people of all ages gazed curiously at the stage.
The boys kicked off the evening with a well-executed dance number choreographed by West Valley Dance Team members Delaney Morrison, a senior, and Carlie Shuel, a junior. After that, it moved into the actual competition, which was emceed by two West Valley alumni: Reina Almon, Miss Washington 2014, and Todd Lyons, a DJ for KATS-FM radio.
The pageant consisted of four categories. First, each contestant was accompanied by a child of his choosing and proceeded to act out what that child wants to be when he or she grows up. With responses that ranged from ballerina to cowboy, the contestants played the part of everything from dance partner to horse.
From there, the show moved into a segment showcasing the nominees’ personal talents. Highlights included (but were by no means limited to) Graham Stoddard performing a moving medley of songs entitled “Kids” on the piano, a trio consisting of Austin Bradford, Mike Leman and Jordan Godoy lip-syncing classic songs, and Jordan Kent reciting a spoken word piece.
During intermission, the audience was finally able to see the face that inspired the entire event. This year’s pageant donated all of its money to the Children’s Village, but the specific child sponsored by Children’s Village for the event was Evan Cruz. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, Evan’s mother proudly stood onstage with her family and explained how much the dedication of the students was worth to herself as well as her son.
Seeing the reason for the entire pageant changed the perspective of the event, as a night of laughter and talent was suddenly given a very visible purpose.
The most emotional section of the pageant was, by far, the one in which each student introduced his hero or heroes. Jace VanDeBrake spoke eloquently about his parents, and even injected a bit of humor into his piece, citing all of the time they had selflessly poured into his sports career over the years. Mark Day gave a speech about his mother and older brother that left much of the audience in tears and was a testament to his skill with words. Each of the 12 boys delivered a tribute that did their heroes justice. This was evidenced by the clear looks of pride and honor on the faces of the inspiring individuals onstage.
Last came the infamous question-and-answer session, in which the entertaining and long-suffering emcees gracefully navigated the tricky “Doug” situation.
Their creative presentation of the questions almost matched the ingenuity of the contestants’ answers.
Ryan Ross, when asked what he would do if he had a magic wand that could grant him any wish, smiled before responding with an answer exalting Doug’s greatness. Mark Day’s response was perhaps the most creative of them all: after being asked what his favorite song was and if he could sing it, he thought for a moment, then sang, “Doug Doug Doug, Dougy Doug Doug.” The audience burst into yet another round of laughter.
When all was said and done, the group managed to raise $24,770 for charity.
Finally, it was time for the crowning of both Mr. Congeniality and Mr. West Valley himself. Mr. Congeniality is an award that is given by the boys themselves, in which each nominee is asked to vote for who among them was the friendliest. The winner of the 2014 title: Jordan Kent.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” was his humble response, and all of the other contestants cheered for him as he accepted his sash.
When it came time for the winner of Mr. West Valley to be revealed, lead coordinator Lizzie Faringer came onto the stage with the envelope. It was slowly opened, and the winner’s name was announced to the crowd:
It was Graham Stoddard — otherwise known as Doug.
When asked what his favorite thing about the whole process was, Graham replied, “Getting to know this amazing group of guys.”
He added: “Every one of them is just so selfless and kind and fun to be around. Working with them to help kids in need, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
• Lauren Caprile is a senior at West Valley High School and a member of Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed journalism program for high school students.