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Side of Ranch

Raising funds for charity looks good to pageant winner

Lakewood Ranch High freshman Madison Huffman will raise funds and awareness for Hope Family Services during her reign as Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant Jr. Teen Ambassador.

Madison Huffman was crowned Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant Jr. Teen Ambassador in September.
Madison Huffman was crowned Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant Jr. Teen Ambassador in September.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Barbie isn't just popular now.

It might come as somewhat of a surprise to today's younger generation that the subject of the 2023 major motion picture is actually a senior citizen.

No, I'm not talking about actress Margot Robbie.

I'm talking about the actual Barbie, who was born in 1959. You can call Ruth Handler, Barbie's creator, or Mattel, the toy company that launched her, the parents.

She is in the pink at 64.

Just ask Lakewood Ranch's Barbara Palmer, who obviously is one of our area's biggest Barbie fans. Palmer was such a big fan that when her daughter-in-law, Amanda Huffman, had a baby girl, grandma was going to make sure her granddaughter had a steady diet of Barbie in her life.

"I had every Barbie doll ... ever," said Madison Huffman, who is now a freshman at Lakewood Ranch High School.

It became so much more than Barbie.

Amanda Huffman noted that her husband's mom is pure "glam." 

And Palmer was going to make sure some of it rubbed off on her granddaughter.

"Mom is not a girly girl," Madison Huffman said. "She is not into makeup. But (her grandmother) bought me dresses all the time. I would always have the biggest sunglasses, and the most flowery dress."

That was OK with Amanda Huffman, because while she might not have been a girly girl, she wasn't against it, either.

"Her grandmother created a glam gal," Amanda Huffman said.

While the judges might have been surprised when Madison Huffman walked on stage in complete pink cowgirl gear — clothes, belt, cowboy hat, boots — at the Miss Manatee County Fair pageant last December, Amanda Huffman's family was not.

"It was happy and peppy," Madison Huffman said. "I stuck out for sure, and I would much rather stick out."

She stuck out enough to finish second in the competition, and did one better when she was crowned Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant Jr. Teen Ambassador in September in a contest held in Orlando Sept. 16 at the Spring Hills Suites.

"Definitely the people there were super sweet," Madison Huffman said. "I liked their morals. A lot of pageants say they are about charity, but this one really was involved in charity."

Amanda Huffman said the "sole purpose of that pageant is to support local and state nonprofits through private donations and volunteer work."

Amanda Huffman helps her daughter, Lakewood Ranch High freshman Madison Huffman, earn pageant titles.
Photo by Jay Heater

The idea of the organization, according to its website, is "Always spreading sunshine through kindness."

Madison Huffman will spend the next year spreading awareness and raising funds, mostly for Hope Family Services, which helps families and children in need. The nonprofit's website — — identifies its mission as to "provide services to survivors of domestic violence and help them stay safe, gain strength, and evaluate their options."

Madison Huffman also plans to spend her reign getting more teenagers engaged in volunteering in the community.

While she is doing all this, she will continue to compete in more pageants and will also compete with the Lakewood Ranch Competition Florida Top Dog All-Stars, a competitive cheerleading team. That season runs through February.

She also has done some modeling, which has been interesting to her.

In July 2022, she did a shoot with Urban Barn Photography. The catch was that she was wearing dresses and doing the shoot underwater in a pool.

"We were in Ellenton, going under for 60 seconds, taking a bunch of photos, and coming up," Madison Huffman said. "Then I would change into a different outfit.

"We did it for five hours, and despite being tired, I thought it was really fun. By the end, I was out of breath and my hands were wrinkled, but it was a great experience."

The 15-year-old said modeling does have its challenges.

"Holding splits for 10 minutes is not comfortable," she said about another photo shoot.

She said all her experiences go in the bank to help her develop as a person in the future. Whether it's competitive cheerleading or pageants, she said she isn't overly concerned about winning.

While she is just a freshman, she is thinking about college and hopes to find out more about Belmont University, the University of Alabama and the University of Central Florida. She wants to continue with competitive cheerleading in college.

Her interest is in psychology, especially how it relates to children. She has a 7-year-old brother. Leonardo.

"I would love to know how my brother's brain works," she said.

For now, she will continue to concentrate on pageants, and even though her mom isn't a girly girl, she has been acting as her coach. They both said many competitors hire personal coaches.

"We are super close and I am a very important part of the team," Amanda Huffman said. "We do bicker."

Shopping sometimes brings out the bickering between them.

"It was three days before a pageant, and we had six dresses (her mom ordered) and two didn't fit me," Madison Huffman said. "She said, 'This is so cute.' Is she kidding?"

Her mother remembered buying a pageant dress and Madison would have none of it.

"She clearly didn't like purple," her mother said with a laugh. "But you have to understand that pageant dresses aren't inexpensive. Shopping isn't the most fun, but we get there. We do have to try to think outside the box."

In the last pageant, she wore the same color dress as three other competitors. That is considered a faux pas, and therefore leads to thinking outside the box when shopping.

Madison Huffman, who is petite at 5-foot-1, said she hopes to find more pageants like the Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant.

"They had a top model (category) with fun dresses and pink feathers," she said with a big smile. "And we made cards for the (Johns Hopkins) All Children's Hospital."

Being interviewed is a big part of pageants and Madison Huffman said she is very comfortable in front of the judges.

"I am pretty good at talking, at using adjectives to describe myself," she said. "And I am very happy with myself personally. I prefer to go outside and to be presentable, but I will wear my sweat pants around town. I know I am going to look good in anything "

Her next appearance will be in the Santa's Grand Arrival Parade Nov. 11 at University Town Center. She will be practicing her wave — one hand, waving with the right, all in the wrist.

However she waves, it will be done with confidence.

"Confidence is at the top," she said. "You need to look exactly like you know what you are doing."

She said she gets confidence from her dad, Aaron Huffman, who she said has a "big personality." 

"He and Madison are a lot alike," Amanda Huffman said.

Meanwhile, her mom did compete in the Miss Indiana Teen USA contest when she was 14.

"I didn't place," she said with a laugh. "It was OK, because I do not love the spotlight so much. I like to volunteer behind the scenes."

Madison, Miss Sunshine Charity Pageant Jr. Teen Ambassador, is comfortable in front of the stage, dressed in pink.

And that has to make grandma proud.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.