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'Rebel girl' rattles boys' beauty bid

'I wanted to have fun, like the boys. I didn't think I needed any reason beyond that,' said Shannon Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick will soon become the first girl ever to compete for the title of Mr. Saugus High School.
"I wanted to have fun, like the boys. I didn't think I needed any reason beyond that," said Shannon Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick will soon become the first girl ever to compete for the title of Mr. Saugus High School. (Globe Photo / Josh Reynolds)

SAUGUS -- Twelve students will vie tonight to become Mr. Saugus High School, a coveted title that comes with a Burger King crown wrapped in velvet, a gift certificate for Chinese food, and unrivaled bragging rights.

But one hopeful will strut across the stage to the tune of ''Rebel Girl." Shannon Fitzpatrick will become the first girl ever to compete in the mock male beauty pageant, a Saugus High tradition for 15 years, organized by the Student Council.

As president of the school's Gay Straight Alliance, Fitzpatrick said, she hopes to make a statement about gender equity, even though contest rules require her to wear a tuxedo and be escorted by a female student.

''There is a nondiscrimination policy at Saugus High," said Fitzpatrick, 17, a petite, bespectacled senior. ''So, I thought, If there is no equivalent event, why can't girls be free to participate in Mr. Saugus High?"

School officials, who say the pageant is harmless fun, question Fitzpatrick's motives. ''I'm baffled," said Jane Osgood, the Student Council adviser and an English teacher. ''Mr. Saugus High was never meant to be a political or exclusive kind of event. It's a joke."

Mock male beauty pageants, poking fun at Miss America and their like, are common spirit-building fund-raisers at high schools in the Boston area. While boys don tuxedos and bikini tops, and show off talents such as making omelettes, girls often act as MC's, stage hands, and ticket sellers.

''Schools try to be creative to raise money," said Ralph Noon, executive director of the Northeast Massachusetts Association of Student Councils and a teacher at Amesbury High, which started a pageant last year.

Organizers say the fake pageants are not meant to demean girls. ''Seeing the boys up on stage, doing something they wouldn't normally do in a gender role can be entertaining," said Maura Quinn, a guidance counselor at Melrose High School, where Mr. Melrose High takes place during the school's Spirit Week. ''It's a good community event."

Arlington High School, however, stopped its pageant four years ago, after the talent segment got too racy for school officials. ''Some of the skits got a little embarrassing," said Sue Briggs, the Student Council adviser. ''Overall, it was a good fund-raiser. . . . It's pretty funny to see a football player dressed up in a ballerina costume."

In Saugus, Fitzpatrick has volunteered for the pageant for the last three years. She worked the lights and last year escorted an old boyfriend during the formal wear competition. This year, Fitzpatrick decided she wanted to take center stage.

''It's a last-hurrah event for senior year," said Fitzpatrick, an honors student. ''I wanted to have fun, like the boys. I didn't think I needed any reason beyond that."

Still, to boost her case with skeptical school officials, she relied on Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination for all school-sponsored activities. Rules require that a student be sponsored by a club, team, or other school organization. Fitzpatrick chose the Gay Straight Alliance, the group she's most involved with at school, she said.

School principal Joseph Diorio, who spoke with a lawyer about Fitzpatrick's eligibility, said some students are upset. ''The pageant is a tradition," he said. ''We'd never had a female student want to be in it before."

Chris Buonopane, the reigning Mr. Saugus High, said he asked Fitzpatrick not to enter. ''I told her, If you want to make a difference, you'd be better off doing something that doesn't interfere with tradition."

Then again, Saugus High students aren't afraid to bend gender roles. Samantha Barnes, a senior, played tackle and guard on the boys' varsity football team last fall. Adam Izzicupo, a junior, is the goalie for the girls' field hockey team.

Fitzpatrick said she is ready to fight for the crown. She'll wear a boy's medium tuxedo for the formal wear competition. She'll put on boxer shorts and baggy jeans for casual wear. She'll slip on a bikini top and Bermuda shorts for the swimsuit segment.

But she'll take the talent competition more seriously. She plans to recite ''Grand Canyon," a poem-song by folk singer Ani DiFranco that includes the line, ''Why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists?"

''This song speaks to me," Fitzpatrick said. ''But, honestly, I don't expect to win."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.

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