Smits wins Miss Georgia Collegiate, strives to continue helping veterans

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

For Courtney Lynne Smits of McDonough, competing in beauty pageants isn’t just about wearing an evening gown, a sash or a crown. It’s a way for her to give back to her community.

Miss Georgia Collegiate, Courtney Lynne Smits, center, with Miss Georgia High School and Miss Georgia Jr. High School. Special photo

“It was something I always wanted to try,” says Smits, 19. “Through pageants, I’ve been able to do a lot of community service, and it’s something I’m really grateful for.”

Her latest accolade came just a couple of weeks ago, when she won the Miss Georgia Collegiate pageant.

Smits is currently a freshman at the University of North Georgia, majoring in International Affairs.

Despite participating in a number of pageants over the last decade, Smits says she didn’t expect to win Miss Georgia Collegiate.

“I was honestly shocked,” she says. “I had taken a couple of years off to get some life experience, so it had been about three years since I was on stage.”

Smits began competing in pageants when she was 10 years old. That same year, she launched the Queens for Courage organization, which is dedicated to another passion of hers – the U.S. military.

“I come from a military family,” explains Smits, a Specialist in the Army Reserves. “The military is something that is very important to me and something that is very dear to my heart.”

Smits notes that her parents each served in the Army, and her stepmother was in the Air Force. Smits’ brother, Trevor, is currently attending the University of North Georgia preparing to become an Army officer.

Courtney Smits says her pageant involvement has allowed her to display her appreciation for the military by working with organizations including the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO.

“We raised money for wounded warriors, and the homeless veterans in Henry County,” she says. “We have set up beauty pageants throughout Henry County. We’ve done tea parties and other events to raise money for veterans.”

Smits’ pageant success also enabled her to work with a group called VetConnect, helping homeless veterans in Henry County get registered with the Veterans Administration, and to help them obtain benefits from when they were in the service.”

She also participates in the University’s Community Service Club and the Debate Team, while working as a waitress at a restaurant off campus. She is no stranger to being in the pageant spotlight, having been named Miss Georgia Teen USA in 2012.

Still, she says that before she participated in her first competition, the first hurdle she had to overcome was to obtain the blessing of her mother, Molly.

“It was definitely something I wanted to do,” says Courtney Smits. “It was definitely my decision, and I’m glad she let me do it, because it’s opened up a whole lot of doors for me.”

Molly Smits says she has always been supportive of her daughter’s desire to compete in pageants. She was overcome with pride following Courtney’s recent victory, and adds that she is just as proud of Courtney’s efforts on behalf of military veterans.

“She just has a natural talent and such a desire to help others, that this was a perfect fit for her and her platform to support Wounded Warriors,” says Molly Smits. “As a retired Army First Sergeant, it warms my heart that not only have she and her brother Trevor both decided to serve in the military, but they are both as equally passionate about serving others. We are a family that believes no servicemember should be homeless or hungry.”

Another person who expressed pride in Courtney Smits’ accomplishments is her pageant coach, Reggie Lewis. He says the qualities that make her unique have been evident to him for a long time.

“I initially served as Courtney's coach when she was preparing to compete for Miss Junior Teen America at the age of 12-13,” says Lewis. “After she won, I received a beautifully framed autographed picture from her. It was that moment that I knew she was no ordinary pageant girl.”

As Smits’ pageant coach, Lewis works with her on her preparation and presentation. He also assists her as a life coach, helping her to set goals and maintain her focus.

Lewis congratulated Smits on her success, both in pageants and in life.

“Having known Courtney since she was in middle school, I am amazed with all that she has accomplished and the focus with which she does it all,” says Lewis. “There are no words to describe Courtney. She has become far more than words could ever explain. She is more like my goddaughter. As she forges her way through her studies at the University of North Georgia, I remain in awe of what tomorrow holds. Of course, winning the national title of Miss Collegiate America would yield amazing scholarship funds to help out.”

Smits will compete for the title of Miss Collegiate America July 11-16, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. In the meantime, she hopes to continue helping veterans while furthering her own career.

“If I don’t go to active duty, I would really like to work at an embassy,” she says.