There wasn’t much that six-year Manteca Youth Focus veteran Liana Bassett didn’t know when it came to the scholarship competition.
But now she’ll get an entire year to learn everything else that there is to know.
That’s what happens when you take the top crown.
On Friday Bassett was the 44th young woman to be crowned Miss Manteca and the next to carry on a new tradition that was born when the program was rebranded in 1995 before a crowd of friends and family at Calvary Community Church.
“It feels really, really amazing to be standing here right now,” Bassett said. “This is going to be a year of service and serving and it’s one that I’m looking forward to.
“I’m proud to be a part of this Manteca Youth Focus family and all of the amazing things that they do. I’m still in complete shock right now – there were so many amazing girls this year.”
Bassett wowed the judges with her stage performance of “Smile” – eliciting the help of her brother Robert on the upright bass guitar to traverse the highs and lows of an iconic song that traces its roots back to Charlie Chaplin.
But she did it her way. And she did it very, very well.
She won her starlight award – where contestants are awarded based on their highest score of the six phases of competition – in community service, and used the tools that she had learned from the program and being around previous winners to excel in her community advocacy project.
Born with a cleft lip, Bassett has started a charity that raises money to purchase teddy bears that sport the same scar as the children that are left with them – the Cleftline Bear Project – that has already garnered the support of the Manteca Police Chief’s Foundation.
She hopes that her win will draw more attention to the cause that she holds near and dear to her own heart. She hopes that wearing the crown will show other children with cleft lip or cleft palate that they can too can do anything they put their minds to.
“One of the great things about being involved with Manteca Youth Focus for as long as I have is that I’ve been blessed with some amazing role models that have left some really large shoes to fill,” Bassett said. “That gives me something to strive for, and that’s why I want to serve.”
And she’s going to have a partner that marches to the beat of his own drum.
While Lechi Nkwocha might be a name most recognized on the sports pages for his achievements at Manteca High School, the newly medaled Manteca City Ambassador took the plunge to appease his other sensibilities and showed some of those in the competition – like when he solved a Rubik’s Cube in just over 30 seconds.
“I have years of practice doing it so I try to solve them in under a minute. It’s different – it’s not something that people expect you to say you can do,” he said. “When you’re involved in sports a lot of people think that’s all that you’re going to do, but I really want to give back to the community.
“I’ve been in Manteca my whole life and it has shaped and molded me into who I am as a person,” Nkwocha said. “I believe in being a positive role model and helping mold and shape younger people.”