Winning crown helps IRHS grad grow
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Oro Valley resident and Ironwood Ridge High School graduate Kyra Batté was recently crowned Miss Pima County. The 23-year-old now leads a busy, beaming life, not taking herself too seriously, working hard and having fun.

Few people at Ironwood Ridge High School might have pegged Kyra Batté as a future Miss Pima County.

She was a cheerleader, yes, but “I was a little chunky, I had terrible acne, braces and frizzy, frizzy black hair,” the Oro Valley resident said. “I don’t think anyone would have thought. I don’t think people believe it to this day. I was never class president, Miss Perfect, homecoming queen.”

Batté, who graduated from IRHS in 2005, was crowned Miss Pima County 2011 in October. Now, she leads a busy, beaming life, not taking herself too seriously, working hard and having fun.

“It’s an amazing opportunity, and I couldn’t ask for more,” Batté said. “I’m constantly booked, but in a good way.”

It took “years to become Miss Pima County,” Batté said. She’s entered the pageant since age 19. Batté was first runner-up her first year, and won the contest her third year.

“I was so happy,” she said. “I was shocked. I knew of all the opportunities I would be getting. And I was relieved, too,” because she would “age out” of the competition after this year.

“I worked really hard, and I know I really wanted it,” she said. “I did it for myself, to show how I have grown.”

How has she grown? Maybe the answer could come from her boyfriend Garrett Thomas, who’s been “supportive from the beginning,” attends every pageant and has been “a really, really good sport. He has seen how much I’ve grown as a person, and how much it means to me,” Batté noted.

Three years ago, “I didn’t know about the news, about politics, nor did I care. I didn’t know what was going on in my community.” She knows now.

She is still “a real person,” but “more polished,” she observed. She can articulate. She can speak in public. Interview preparation helped her get a job. Batté earned her degree in psychology at the University of Arizona in 2009, and works as a case manager for mentally ill people at COPE Community Services, Inc.

She works out – “a lot of cardio, a lot of running” — on her lunch hour. “I’m probably the only 22-year-old that still tap dances,” which is her talent. Appearances, clothes shopping, preparation for this summer’s Miss Arizona competition … it all shows “how dedicated somebody is, their willingness to pull through something. And being able to reach out to the community. I’ve met some amazing people,” she said.

Batté moved to Oro Valley at age 10, and attended Copper Creek Elementary School, Coronado K-8 School and Ironwood Ridge. IRHS counselor Eileen Jonaitis and Spanish teacher Chris Rohrer encouraged her along the way. Batté’s mom Priscila Chenault initially “didn’t really get it. After seeing me grow, she’s supportive. She believes in the program as well. There’s no pressure.”

Today, Batté’s life is a “wild ride.”

She was at the holiday lighting festivities in Marana and Oro Valley. She helped with the Twin Peaks Road ribbon cutting. She rode in the Oro Valley Holiday Parade, which happened to be on her 23rd birthday. “There’s a parade in my honor,” she joked. Her wave in the parade was “a real wave. I’m down to earth. There’s no pageant wave.”

How does she keep that crown in place? Pipe cleaners are woven into a shape molded to her head. In turn, they’re pinned to her hair.

There’s no pretense on her part, even when she does something like attend the Christmas party of the fashion and etiquette club at La Cima Middle School. To those young women, she is Miss Pima County 2011, complete with crown and sash.

“They’re so mesmerized,” Batté said. “They’re so flattering, so sweet.”

In her own mind, “I‘m just Kyra Batté, a normal person that works a normal job.”

She talked about herself, about the pageant, about being the best you can be, about having self-esteem and confidence. Middle school is “such a crucial time,” Batté said. “I want to be a positive role model, I want to make a difference.”

The girls could see she’s all of five feet tall. “Short girls can do pageants, too,” she said. They learned she’s half-Filipino. “Beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes.”

They asked questions. ‘Do you have a boyfriend?” Garrett “has to be Mr. Pima County,” she joked. The kids took dozens of pictures.

“I didn’t know how much of a difference you actually make, I just didn’t know,” she said. “The crowd everywhere has been really responsive and really sweet about everything.” Young children “think you’re a princess.” There are plenty of hugs.

As Miss Pima County, Batté is a public figure. “I really feel empowered, I feel I am a role model, I want to make a difference.” Within this year, she’ll have opportunities for growth and enrichment, and experiences she wouldn’t have otherwise. “It will stick with me forever. It’s made me a better person.”

She can become Miss Arizona this summer, and in that role could compete for … Miss America. But that’s not the point.

“I don’t have to be Miss Arizona,” Batté said. “If I embody Miss Arizona, I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn. It’s half you and half luck.”

Batté calls attention to mental health issues

Mental health support and awareness is Kyra Batté’s platform as Miss Pima County.

“It’s been an issue in my family,” she said. “It’s a personal issue that’s affected me.”

Mental illness is stigmatized, yet common, she said. In any given year, one in four Americans are affected with mental illness. Nearly half of all people are affected sometime in their lives.

Mental illness can include depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. Batté, who works as a case manager for mentally ill people through COPE Community Services Inc., wants to educate people about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.

“If I can make a difference in one person’s life, and show them the way, help them find a resource, let them know they’re not alone, open people’s minds,” then the task is done, she said.

Batté loves the swimsuit

Contestants in the Miss Pima County Pageant are evaluated in five categories – swimsuit, interview, evening gown, talent and an onstage question.

Kyra Batté, Miss Pima County 2011, likes the swimsuit competition over all others. “That’s always been my favorite,” she said.

“A lot of girls hate it,” Batté continued. “I’ve never minded it. You get to show off your personality as you walk, too.”

The pageant winner admits she’s “bubbly,” and lets it show in a swimsuit. Batté won a preliminary swimsuit contest among Miss Arizona contestants preparing for the state pageant in June.

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