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Miss Teen USA returns hometo big welcome

Tami Farrell spends a jam-packed day being honored, pampered, questioned and cheered

It is Tami Farrell's first trip back to Phoenix High School, her alma mater, since winning the title of Miss Teen USA in August.

It is Spirit Week and things can get a bit wacky, but even Farrell, who admits she likes the limelight, says she was caught off-guard by the entrance planned for her triumphant return Friday.

Wheeled into the auditorium on a fur-covered bed, the 19-year-old is attended by several toga-wearing, paper-palm-frond-waving senior boys.

Her long-legged frame is decked out in the official blue and silver sash, pearl-encrusted tiara, three-inch silver sandals, a spangled blue mini skirt and off-white cropped sweater.

— Farrell smiles and waves to her friends with one arm, while laughing and clutching her skirt with the other.

Her peers stand and cheer so loud the walls reverberate.

The teen beauty queen ' who quotes Eleanor Roosevelt and was class president in all four grades ' says it was her leadership teacher who dreamed up the dramatic entrance.

I was so embarrassed, she says afterward, laughing. I've been talking to people all day, but they all know me.

Farrell is the third Miss Teen USA from Oregon. Contestants are judged on swimsuit and evening gown competitions and an interview. Farrell, who loves to sing, says talent has been eliminated from the pageant.

Farrell's title comes with a year of rent-free living in New York City, cash, prizes and the tiara ' the &

36;17,500 one, not the &

36;250,000 crown used for the pageant and special occasions.

It also comes with endless public appearances, where Farrell has the opportunity to speak about the dangers of teen drug and alcohol abuse and The Sparrow Club ' a school-based fund-raising organization in which students adopt a child and raise money to pay for needed medical care.

We did it at Phoenix, she says. It really brought my school together.

Farrell's itinerary is pages long ' for each day. Arriving at the Medford airport at 11:30 Thursday night (2:30 a.m. her time), she caught a few hours' sleep at a local hotel before rising at 6 a.m. to begin her day.

Upbeat and gregarious, she's got a smile that's part fashion model, part hometown girl.

Her family members shadow her, watching her follow through on the duties of Miss Teen USA.

Her father and mother are clearly proud of the girl who has been called the tomboy beauty queen.

Farrell grew up playing on a boys baseball team and hunting and fishing with her father, when she wasn't modeling for Surfer Magazine or doing runway work in California.

I called her my 'yee-haw' girl. Everything was an adventure to her, says Stephanie Farrell, her mother.

She is moved to tears as she hears others speak about her daughter's beauty and character. Farrell's father, Tim Farrell, is getting moist around the eyes, too.

She said she wanted to do this since she was — or 4 years old, he says. It's great to see her get a leg up on a career she's always wanted ' entertaining.

Farrell's 17-year-old brother, Ricky, still attends Phoenix High School. Farrell flew Ricky out to New York to spend his birthday at her Trump Place apartment, in the upper west side, which she shares with Miss USA and Miss Universe.

We went to Ground Zero and Central Park, says Ricky.

Farrell says she has a good time with her two new roommates.

We're different with different backgrounds, she says, adding she sometimes misses the simple down-home life.

We sometimes have time off on the weekends. I like to bake and do my own laundry. I know it's weird, but I like it, she says.

When asked what he thought of his sister's digs and her roommates, Ricky replies with a grin, Niiice!

Still, he says, it's strange to see his big sis back in town wearing a crown.

It's so weird to see people making such a big deal, he says. She used to talk to them all the time before, now they're all cheering and stuff.

Scooping up her pigtailed niece, Maddi Hatfield, Farrell gives the 7-year-old a big hug.

The little girl has a serious case of heroine-worship and already has started competing in pageants. Asked what is the best part of having Farrell back in town, she whispers, Seeing her.

Farrell will spend several days dashing from one end of the valley to the next, thanking her local sponsors, doing photo ops with local dignitaries and giving dozens of interviews with interminable questions asking, 'What is it like?

At Gary West Meats in Jacksonville, Farrell grins as two boxes of pigeons are ceremoniously released in her honor.

The mayors of Jacksonville, Phoenix and Medford speak glowingly about the teen celebrity. Medford Mayor Lindsay Berryman gives Farrell a key to the city and praises her volunteerism and congeniality.

As Farrell quotes Eleanor Roosevelt ' The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams ' one of her sponsors quotes Robert Kennedy in return. But Paul Murdoch, another of Farrell's sponsors, quotes Mark Twain.

I think it was Twain who said you should never see how sausage is made, but we're proud of our meats, he says, inviting everyone inside to wear a paper hat and view the process.

At Frosty Boy for lunch, Farrell grabs a moment of peace. Her &

36;17,500 tiara is sitting slightly askew on someone else's head ' her teenage cousin's crew-cut head, to be exact. Her sash is folded on the table and she is chatting with family members.

She downs a much anticipated burger and cherry shake. But she skips most of the fries.

Soon the tiny burger joint is filled with diners seeking autographs and more press with more questions and photo ops as Farrell is asked to serve customers seated at the outside tables.

It's time to move on. Back in the car, still drinking the last of her milkshake, she heads off to her next stop ' Talent Middle School.

After that she'll dash to an early dinner with more sponsors, then back to Phoenix High School for the Homecoming Parade and half-time appearance at the game.

I don't know what they have planned for this, says Farrell. But I'm sure it will be something interesting.

Her plans for tomorrow?

I am hoping to sleep in as late as possible, she says.

Then it's off to Bend for more appearances and back again.

.

Miss Teen USA Tami Farrell, 19, adjusts her sash for a customer?s snapshot during a visit to the Frosty Boy restaurant in Medford Friday. The beauty queen plans appearances throughout the valley for the next several days. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell