Rob Weekley was still too excited to talk in full sentences. But clutching his trophy and surrounded by his parents, his girlfriend and his sister, he managed to blurt out some of his emotions about winning the "Mr. Sherwood" title in his high schools's all-male beauty and personality pageant.
"Pretty wild," was how he described the feeling of strutting down a lighted runway wearing nothing but skimpy briefs and a lopsided grin. The lightly-tanned wrestler and football player had prepared for hi promenade by lifting weights backstage to pump up his muscles, which glistened with oil under the lights.
He "kind of liked," he conceded, the oogling eyes and frenzied screams of the hundreds of teen-age girls who packed the Sherwood (Md.) High School auditorium. "That was the best part," he winked. What he didn't like was "those tough questions the judges asked" and the fear of "looking like a fool." "
"It was kind of scary, but a lot of fun," summed up the 17-year-old beauty king about the third annual Mr. Sherwood Pageant. The high-spirited evening of beefcake featured 49 adolescents, introduced as "super studs" in competition for the title.
The turnabout pageant -- complete with swimsuit, semi-formal and "personal expression" contests -- began at the Sandy Spring, Md., school three years ago "as sort of a fun spoof to raise funds before the prom," said photography teacher and pageant adviser Sam Andelman.
"At first I didn't think we'd get enough guys to do it. The guys here aren't shy, but I didn't think they'd be willing to parade in front of people like that."
By the end of the week 20 had signed up. Many treated it as a lark -- wearing crazy costumes and pulling gags. The audience loved it, and a school tradition was born.
Since that first pageant, however, "It's been getting more and more serious," said Andelman. "We had 35 guys enter the second year, and 57 signed up this year. A lot of them really wanted to win. I know some kids who were crushed because they didn't make the semi-finals."
At this year's pageant it was difficult to tell who was most excited, the contestants or the audience of nearly 1,000 students, parents and friends. Wide-eyed girls jamming the first several rows cheered nonstop throughout the three-hour contest, yelling the names of their favorites and whistling at the flex of every muscle.
"It's not just fun and games like the first year," noted junior Kimmie Keller, girlfriend of the winner and organizer of a claque of friends who screamed Weekley's name. "It's real exciting for them, and serious, too. Like a beauty pageant is for girls."
Competition judges came from as far away as New York and included three members of beauty royalty: Miss USA Teen Hemisphere 1978, Miss Metro 1980 and Mr. Teen USA 1980. Other judges were Maryland delegate Joel Chasnoff and Mrs. Chasnoff, the manager of a store's men's department, a writer for "Seventeen" magazine and this reporter.
Throughout the pageant, I couldn't, I must admit, help thinking that things certainly had changed since I graduated eight years ago from a Montgomery County high school.
Would our school's administration have smiled on a student's parade before classmates and parents wearing tiny briefs emblazoned with "Home of the Whopper?" I don't remember high schoolers in the '70s bumping and grinding so authentically -- and publicly.
How many high-school boys then would have had enough nerve -- not to mention clear skin -- to put their physiques on the line? And where did all those good-looking guys come from?Were the senior girls at my high school that blind to call their male peers such things as "inhabitants of nerd city"?
And finally, aren't beauty pageants of any kind supposed to be less than liberating? Not so, it would seem. Especially when it comes to men.
The Mr. Sherwood Pageant, according to Mr. Teen USA, aka Rick Amos, is part of a trend toward masculine "physique and personality" contests. "Women have always had the chance to be recognized for the image they present," he said. "It's part of our changing society that men have these opportunities, too."
The competition began with a private reception for contestants and judges. Most entrants looked like they'd been studying a John Travolta "Dress for Sex-cess" book: tight slacks, open shirts and yards of gold chain. Their smiles were sauve, if shaky, their conversation fiercely cheerful, and their palms cold and clammy.
They expressed a variety of reasons for entering: peer pressure from "guys daring each other to do it," to have fun, to raise money for the school and to win a share of the $2,100 in prizes (donated by local merchants and divided among the top five).
After the reception, entrants rushed backstage to change while the school's jazz band entertained a by-now anxious crowd. From the first entrance for the "appearance" competition, through the "physique" and "intelligence" contests, the pageant ran with Atlantic City-like smoothness.
While judges tallied scores, provocatively-dressed female students sang songs like "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and "You're So Vain," all but entwining themselves around the contestants.
It was, as one contestant put it, "the highlight of the year."
"It gives you a lot of confidence," said semi-finalist Mitch Jacobs. "And the next time I watch a Miss America pageant I'll know where they're coming from."
"It's certainly different," admitted semi-finalist Jim Bentson, 17. "At first I was scared and embarrassed, but it got kinda fun to get whistled at. I felt like a star."
But the students who seemed to enjoy it most were the girls.
"It's the only chance we have to be liberated," said 16-year-old Lisa Paul. "Having a pageant like this means the guys are loosening up and are more comfortable with their bodies."
"It's great to let the guys display themselves for a change," added 17-year-old Signe Peterson. "We compare their bodies anyway, but it's much nicer without them wearing so many clothes."
"Finally," sighed an attractive sophomore girl, "I can be the whistler instead of the whistlee."