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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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New Florida Strawberry Festival queen has roots in agriculture

PLANT CITY — The new Florida Strawberry Festival queen isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

Haley Riley has been raising and showing livestock since she joined 4-H as a 5-year-old. And she’s not going to let the crown keep her from showing her steer, Wyatt Earp, at the festival’s livestock shows.

“This will be my last year to compete so yes, I’ll be there,” she said.

The 16-year-old Durant High School junior gets her love for agriculture naturally; several family members are farmers.

Her great grandparents, Osburn and Grace Griffin, owned a strawberry farm that’s now the campus of Strawberry Crest High School. He founded the farm with her great-great grandfather John Griffin.

Riley said Sunday she was still in shock from being crowned festival queen Saturday night.

“I woke up and realized, this isn’t a dream,” said Riley, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and has brown hair and brown eyes. “I’m so excited and honored.”

Morgan Gaudens was selected first maid. Other court members are Alex Aponte, Ashtyn Steele and Ashlyn Yarbrough.

The queen and court members were selected from a field of 23 contestants by a panel of judges who live out of town.

Riley, who aspires to be a pediatric anesthesiologist, is the oldest of three children of retired Army 1st Sgt. William and Heather Riley. “We’re very proud of her,” said Heather, a former teacher. “This was her first time (competing for queen). She had a great time. She loved competing.”

Her father, an ROTC instructor at Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, said friends and family called to offer their congratulations for hours after the 3˝ hour pageant.

“We were overwhelmed, We heard from people all the way up to 2 in the morning, when we finally cut the phone off,” he said.

Her grandmother, Faye Griffin, said Haley worked hard to win the crown. “I am so ecstatic. I can’t tell you how proud I am,” she said.

Haley Riley said she had more than 300 Facebook messages as of Sunday morning and wasn’t sure when she’d reply to them all.

Riley was born in Talladega, Alabama, when her father was stationed in the area. She has lived in Dover since she was 2 years old.

Riley, who is a member of First Baptist Church of Dover, described herself as a person of faith and thanked God for the blessing of being chosen to represent the festival.

She is active in FFA, and credits public speaking she honed in FFA contests with helping her win the pageant.

Her mother is a lifelong Dover resident. Her aunt Deanna Brewer was a member of the 1997 festival queen’s court. Her dad is a native of Alabama.

The queen and her court play roles in the strawberry festival by helping introduce headline entertainers and presiding over some contests.

Beyond the festival, the queen and court represent the festival, strawberry growers and to a certain extent Plant City in parades and other special events.

The festival will be March 3-13.


Twitter: @dnicholsonTBO

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