MYRTLE BEACH — This may be a legal case of age before beauty.
The former pageant winner representing Coastal Carolina University is suing the school and the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization for forcing her to participate in pageant events even though she was too old to qualify for the additional competition.
Allura Cheyenne Westberry claims the school and Miss South Carolina were aware that she would turn 25 before the end of 2017, which invalidated her from competing to be Miss South Carolina that year.
The Irmo native said in her court filing that the school insisted they would strip her of her title as Miss Coastal Carolina University if she did not participate.
Westberry, who is studying ocean conservation, also claims she had to delay her graduation in order to participate in pageant events last year, and she said that the school and scholarship organization had a financial interest in her participation. She is now slated to graduate this spring.
The lawsuit also said Westberry spent $5,000 on "hair, make-up, apparel, photos, tickets and alike" as she appeared at functions connected to the Miss South Carolina competition before she was told last May that she had to leave the pageant circuit.
"Anybody that wants to do any pageant, I would pretty much just insist that they do all of their research and just know that it does cost a lot of money," she told The Post and Courier.
Westberry is asking for at least $25,000 in the suit.
In an email, CCU spokeswoman Martha Hunn said, "We disagree with the student's characterization of events that are alleged in the complaint, and we believe the University handled these circumstances appropriately."
In court documents, the school acknowledged that it had been notified of Westberry's age prior to her entering the Miss South Carolina contest, but it did not admit or deny threatening to strip Westberry of her Miss CCU title if she stopped participating in competitions.
The school did deny the allegation that it was enriched by Westberry's participation in the pageant circuit.
The Miss South Carolina organization also admitted in a court filing it had been provided with Westberry's date of birth and that she "raised some funds" for the group. But it denied that it was enriched by her actions and insisted that the pageant "has not violated any contractual or legal duty" to Westberry.
"My folks are pretty confident that they haven't done anything wrong," said Brian Magargle, an attorney for the Miss South Carolina organization.
But Westberry said she was required to participate in multiple events, even though the school and pageant knew she wasn't eligible to compete. The pageant process included a camping trip, visit to the Statehouse in Columbia and fundraising for Miss South Carolina's charity partner, the Children's Miracle Network.
Westberry said she was uneasy about asking people for money because she was unsure how much of it actually made it to the charity.
"From October to June, I was supposed to be raising money," she said.
Because of the time she devoted to pageant activities, she was unable to sign up for classes last summer, pushing Westberry's graduation date by a semester, and had other costs, such as maintaining her apartment near the campus in Conway.
Westberry said that because of her lawsuit, CCU's pageant is no longer associated with Miss South Carolina.
The pageant organization did not respond to a phone message, but a post on CCU's website from Nov. 3 said that the contest had been renamed as "Miss Teal and Bronze."
The competition "has transitioned from being a preliminary pageant for the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageant, to a homecoming kickoff event sponsored by Coastal Activities Board," according to the post.
Hunn said participants can still compete to be named Miss South Carolina, however.