No matter how she fares at this weekend’s Miss New York Pageant, Kelly Rotolo is virtually guaranteed to at least come away with the Best Cross-Check crown.
The North Tonawanda High School senior advanced to the state contest — a feeder for the Miss America pageant — by winning the Miss Canal Fest title last summer. She has spent her time since that victory honing her platform, serving the community and manning the space between the pipes as a goaltender for the Niagara Catholic High School club hockey team.
A veteran of numerous local pageants, Rotolo won her first pageant in taking last year’s Canal Fest crown. Her platform, empowering young women, played a part in the victory, she said.
“It’s about trying to get young women to try new things and accept failure as a stepping stone to get to their goals,” she said.
Rotolo, age 18, uses ice hockey as a way for her to walk the walk. She’s played hockey since she was 6 years old, having assumed a spot in goal at age 12 when she joined a women’s team that needed a goaltender — “my brother had the goalie equipment, so I borrowed it,” she said. After playing with the Wheatfield Blades and other local hockey groups, she joined Niagara Catholic — which, due to the school’s small enrollment, had several non-NC students among its 12-person roster in 2008-09 — and served as a backup goalie and emergency forward.
“Without a doubt, she’s a very outstanding young athlete. She definitely has her priorities in a line,” said Cary O’Donoghue, coach of the NC squad. “She was here to improve, not just sit back and go with the talent she has.”
As for being a girl amongst boys?
“She was a little nervous at first. She handled everything very, very well,” O’Donoghue said. “She got run over in the crease, banged around, and she got up and handled it, hit them back, no problem.”
Her aggressive on-ice nature doesn’t show up on stage, however.
“Kelly did an exemplary job as the Canal Fest Queen last year,” said Maryalice Demler, the Channel 2 News anchor and former Canal Fest pageant winner who now serves as the event’s director. “She welcomed people to the festival, hand out awards at events and was the ultimate hostess for visitors to our communities. She is a very articulate and accomplished young woman who represents our community well — in all that she does.”
Rotolo had always thought about winning the Canal Fest crown, but it wasn’t until months after her victory in July that the possibility of competing at the state level even came up. State pageant organizers decided to open up their contest to winners of festival or fair pageants across New York — “an automatic bid, if you will,” Demler said. The experiment will be conducted over the next couple years, she said, and Canal Fest organizers decided to approve Rotolo’s placement in the state contest and cover her expenses.
“The opportunity for the Canal Fest queen to compete for the Miss New York title is not only an opportunity to win more scholarship money ... but it also gives her an opportunity to improve her interview and communication skills, polish her performing arts talent and challenge her to get into the very best physical shape of her life,” said Demler, who herself won the state crown in 1990. “More than anything, it is an opportunity to show pride in the Tonawandas as its representative, to talk about the Canal Fest to people from all over the state and to challenge herself to do something ‘outside her comfort zone”’ that will bring her personal satisfaction and help her grow in confidence and self-esteem. Preparing for the state title is more rigorous than most people know.”
Rotolo, for her part, is ready for the challenge.
“I think that would be incredible, meeting new people and speaking to people,” she said of competing at the state level. “I think it would be a lot of fun, a lot of hard work. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity.”
Rotolo will travel to Albany on Tuesday in advance of the competition starting Thursday. Contestants will perform a variety of tasks Thursday, Friday and Sunday before the crown is awarded Sunday evening. Rotolo’s talent is vocal, and she’ll match up against 20 other young women in competing for the title. The winner will spend the summer and fall honing her platform and making appearances while preparing to take part in the Miss America pageant in January, Rotolo said.
“It’s something I’ve always thought about doing,” said Rotolo, who was given the option of entering pageants by her mother since a young age, of Miss America. “I think they’re a lot of fun. I like speaking and being on stage.”
Rotolo will not be the only Niagara County native taking part in the state pageant. Niagara Falls native Jennifer Starkey will represent Buffalo in Albany. A Buffalo State College graduate, Starkey was recently hired as the new e-marketing manager for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.
NC’s hockey team placed third in the Explorer League this past season, losing a best-of-three playoff series to Buffalo’s Hutch-Tech in three games. When not on the ice, Rotolo took part in the Model UN, foreign language club and student council at NTHS; volunteered at Gilda’s Club and as a religious instructor at St. Jude the Apostle Church; and assisted in collecting and packing donations for humanitarian missions to Nicaragua. She also was a Tonawanda News Quality Student this past year and won the NC hockey team’s sportsmanship award.
She is set to begin studying at Niagara University in the fall in pursuit of a childhood education degree. She has no plans to play hockey next year at the school, one of only 34 colleges to offer women’s hockey at the top collegiate level, but she said she might try to walk on in subsequent seasons.
Whether the next challenge be making the team, winning a beauty crown or anything else, her former coach said Rotolo is beyond capable.
“She had 100 percent passion ... she doesn’t sit back, worrying about anything,” he said. “Beauty pageant? That’s no problem. She can handle that.”
Contact Paul Laneat 693-1000, ext. 116.

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