Round-up time is often a bit sad, but you must admit the Miss America contestants were lovely beyond words this year, and by the time Cheryl Prewitt took the crown for the great state of Mississippi the world seemed safe for one more year of long-stemmed beauties.

Prewitt is noy only a miracle of beauty but a miracle. Her leg was crushed 11 years ago in a car accident. She said doctors told her she would never ualk again. But she walked as well as all the other contestants Saturday night. She attributes it to God.

"God is the instigator of this whole thing. If it wasn't for Him, I would never have gotten out of that wheelchair and walked."

On Oct. 21, 1974, she said, she attended a Jackson, Miss., revival meeting, where 300 other believers joined to ask that her shorter left leg would grow to match her right. "I was sitting there very calmly. We prayed and we asked. I sat and watched my leg grow out instantaneously two inches."

Asked uhether she thought people would believe her medical miracle, Prewitt said, "I'm not worried, if I worried about it, then I wouldn't believe it happened. But I know it did and if others don't . . . "

Preuitt is the 52nd Miss America and the third Miss Mississippi to win the title. She stands 5 feet 7 and weighs 110 pounds, and said her family's home is eight miles outside of Ackerman, a town of about 1,600. She said she had hoped to attend and get a doctorate from the Juilliard School of Music in New York -- but now her music career "depends on what doors are open" -- and described herself as a independent Methodist, a Democrat and "a very loving person."

Nobody ever has the foggiest idea why one girl wins and another doesn't. Bert Parks, the master of ceremonies, a perfectly preserved specimen of early middle age though he dates from the last year of King Tutankhamen's reign, made a great point of reminding everybody that Miss America is not, repeat not, a beauty contest.

Nor a talent contest.

They never used to say that.

They only say it now to keep peace among the television audience (and last year the show drew half the viewers watching anything at all) who tend to say:

"Waddya mean, Miss Slopebone won? Wadda dog."

"Oh," cry a million home viewers to their partners, "you wanted Miss Busty. Well, thank God she didn't win. Something rather vulgar about that Miss Busty. But Miss Slopebone-- isn't it sweet she teaches Sunday school?"

"What else is she going to do down in -- ?" (Etc., etc.)

If your girl doesn't win, you can comfort yourself that it's neither a beauty nor a talent contest, so how did she ever have a chance?

This Saturday's pageant was notable for baton twirling (Kelli Diane Krull of New York), the likes of which was never seen before, and which should permanently shut up people who rank twirling below hog-calling. Spectacular.

There was also a merciful shortage of dramatic readings, a favorite "talent" of former years. Furthermore, nobody sang Puccini arias. Over the decades, there has been something about Puccini that inspires people who can't sing their way off a streetcar to sing to the nation from "Butterfly."

Contestants nowadays know that the voice doesn't sound so bad if the musical work is modest.

And this year, among notable refreshments, were Miss Iowa, Lori Froeling, on the flute, and Miss Florida, Marti Phillips, on the clarinet.

Tradition was not entirely broken, however. There was the usual Chopin, in which the point of the performance is that the young woman can wiggle her fingers with agility and pays attention to everything except the central music.

Parks, who brings enthusiasm and wonder to his work decade after decade (he's been at the pageant 25 years now) announced each girl with clear speech and profound awe.

The lighting was admirable. The professional dancers, who bounded forth like greyhounds from time to time, were smart and snappy, and the general pacing was excellent, especially when you consider that it is the nature of pageants to Last.

This year the girls learned a new technique, speaking in loud, strained tones as if competing with jet planes overhead. Doubtless the pageant setting at Atlantic City is noisy, but on television it's always an error to strain for volume. Certain politicians strain the same way, and one is reminded of a farm youth whose prize calf has strayed on the railroad track and the 6:15 is approaching and he implores the gods to stop fate.

Another thing the contestants have learned is to keep their mouths open at all times. Humans should have 32 teeth, and the theory is that if you can see 24 of them, you can take the rest on faith and assume the lass is healthy.

There were, according to the sacred traditions of glitter-media, plenty of commercials. People who watch television often could easily ignore them. Others, who rarely watch, might have found them interesting beyond measure, technically impressive (especially on behalf of breakfast crunchables and soups that have no calories to speak of) and irresistible as a kaleidoscope or a three-ring circus. Weird, of course, but galvanizing all the same.

What, one may ask himself, does it all mean? The annual festival of the nubile, squeaky clean.

It means (a survey has shown) folk like to look at girls. That's what it means. Any squawks?