Morgan Greco vividly remembers the moment the crown was hers. She stood at the helm of a silent stage, with 50 other young women standing behind her. The nerves she felt were unmatched. She clutched hands with the other final competitor, Miss D.C., awaiting the final reveal.
She had a moment of calm before the emcee finally announced: ‘Morgan Greco from Washington!’
An explosion of applause erupted through the ballroom in Dallas. Greco, from Camas, just won the title of 2023 Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.
“There was a lot of crying that night,” Greco said. “It was just incredible.”
Outstanding Teen is part of the Miss America organization for young women ages 13-18. The competition consists of three parts, including talent, evening gown and on-stage question segments. Greco has earned more than $53,000 in scholarship money throughout her time in the organization, and she will hold her national title for a full year.
Greco isn’t the first young woman from Clark County to win the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen title, either. In 2019, Payton May first blazed the trail to the crown.
Sheri Backous, executive director of Miss Clark County, said there’s nothing in the water. Rather, Backous said, it’s the girls who are doing exceptionally hard work. As a former educator, Backous said it’s been a wonderful experience working with driven students. She said she enjoys getting to mentor them, lift them up when they need it and provide them with tools to grow.
Contrary to popular pageantry stigma, Backous said the Miss America system is an inclusive, safe space for young women to pursue exciting and stimulating challenges. She stresses the importance of local social initiatives, drive and public speaking skills.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” she said. “And it doesn’t focus on beauty or modeling. We’re just trying to empower young women to be who they want to be.”
Backous was one of many in the audience supporting Greco in Dallas.
That night, Greco wore a fitted lavender evening gown, which she designed, embellished with jewels and off-the-shoulder sleeves. The tail flowed out in several layers, cascading onto the stage. Her goal with the look was inspired by old Hollywood. While the dress was fun for Greco, she said the competition is so much more than that.
Greco sang a rendition of “The Jewel Song” from the opera “Faust” for the talent portion of the competition. Although she’s 16 and has two more years left in high school, she has big plans for her professional vocal career in the future.
Greco has her eyes set on the University of Alabama to pursue operatic performance and marketing. She also plans to continue to compete within the Miss America organization, and she looks forward to spending time with the women she often refers to as her sisters.
Greco has been competing for three years now, having previously won Miss Clark County and Miss Washington teen titles. But she’s also been busy with academic work, social service work, singing, and starting her own initiative to teach women self-defense through Krav Maga, a military self-defense art, with her nonprofit Empowerment Starts with Me.
Her mother, Rose Weithas, couldn’t be more proud. At first, Weithas said that her daughter pursuing pageantry as an extracurricular seemed daunting because of the stigma that can exist around it. Sometimes, she said, people devalue the competition to just pretty dresses and makeup. But she said the minute that people actually meet Greco and discover how poised, smart, kind and ambitious she is, it all melts away.
“They are immediately stopped in their tracks,” Weithas said. “These women are world changers. They’re intelligent. All of these women are incredible.”
Greco is Weithas’ fifth and youngest child, so having the financial means to put her through college to pursue her dreams is something for which Weithas feels especially grateful. She’s thrilled for the future Greco has in front of her.
“I get emotional just thinking about it because it is a huge financial burden for families to be able to provide secondary education,” she said. “Now her entire education is paid for.”