Western Weekend draws service-minded highschoolers


Two Tomales High School students are running for Junior Grand Marshal, the successor title to the Western Weekend Queen, a scholarship contest over six decades old. 

Last month, the West Marin Lions Club announced that it would nix the crown competition and instead select a Junior Grand Marshal. The change is an effort to make the program gender-neutral and more community-service oriented in a bid to create more fairness and draw more contestants. 

“Last year, we had only one applicant, so I’m really happy we have two great applicants this year,” said Rhonda Kutter, one organizer of the new competition. Although no boys applied this year, she said two gentlemen expressed interest. With more time to organize and spread the word she hopes more teens will apply in the future. 

The two contestants are Paola Barajas and Sammantha Strode, both of whom attend Tomales High School. Seventeen-year-old Sammantha is the president of Tomales High’s 4-H club and is active in its chapter of the Future Farmers of America. She shows beef cattle and hogs at the Petaluma Fair—and the cattle are hers. 

“When I was 2, my parents let me pick a heifer out of the herd for $2. So now I have 30 head...from the progeny,” she said. 

Though her mom was a Western Weekend Queen, Sammantha a said she supports the new title. “I think it’s a good idea to open it up to guys and give them a shot,” she said. 

For 16-year-old Paola, the title would serve as a substitute for the quinceañera she never had, since her Mexico-born mother and father could not afford to pay for the festivities. 

“Ever since I was little, I’d dreamed of having a crown or being a princess. I’ve sort of obsessed over that idea,” she said. 

A soccer player and cheerleading captain for Tomales High, Paola participates in Summer Search, a nonprofit program that offers year-round mentoring and confidence-building field trips to low-income teens. 

She said she hopes to make a career of caring for children as a neonatal nurse or pediatrician. “I really like kids,” Paola said. “They’re so smart, and it’s just a fun time!” 

Like many queens before them, Sammantha and Paola are selling raffle tickets at businesses around town. To find out where, visit the website of the Tomales Bay Youth Center at TBYClounge.org.

The winner will be announced during the barn dance on Saturday at Toby’s Feed Barn.