On Saturday, August 4th, the Sun Bowl Association announced the 2018 Sun Court that includes a new Sun Queen, Lady-in-Waiting and Sun Princesses.
The 2018 Sun Queen is Mckenna Hitter and the new Lady-in-Waiting is Stephanie Paz. Both Hitter and Paz were Sun Princesses in 2017.
“All these wonderful women are natives of El Paso and have amazing backgrounds,” said Sun Bowl Association Executive Director Bernie Olivas. “Our Sun Queen and Lady-in-Waiting will be great leaders for this great group of Sun Bowl and El Paso ambassadors.”
Coronation has been part of the Sun Bowl since the first-ever college Sun Bowl game was played in 1936. Coronation played a huge social role in the “Sun Carnival”, the week-long pageantry associated with the Sun Bowl.
According to the 1938 Sun Bowl game program, “The social side of the Sun Carnival centers around the Coronation of the Sun Queen with Lady-In-Waiting and her Royal Court of Princesses from all the cities of the Sun Empire and the Grand Ball tendered by the Association in honor of Her Majesty and Court.”
The 10 young ladies selected as Sun Princesses were selected after applying and going through an interview process.
The selection was based on poise, appearance, communication and interpersonal skills, while also having the ability to demonstrate knowledge of El Paso and the Sun Bowl Association.
The Sun Court serves as ambassadors for the city of El Paso. They volunteer at various community events and make appearances at the Andeavor All-America Golf Classic, FirstLight Federal Credit Union Sun Bowl Parade, WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational, Hyundai Sun Bowl Game, Academy Sports + Outdoors Sun Bowl International Soccer Tournament, the Helen of Troy Sun Court Charm Camp and other community events throughout the year.
The 2018 Sun Court was crowned at the El Paso Country Club on Saturday evening, August 4.
Mckenna Hitter is the daughter of Gerald and Linda Hitter. Hitter is a 2016 graduate of Eastlake High School where she graduated as the class Salutatorian with a 4.0 GPA. Hitter is currently a junior at the UTEP, where she is majoring in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. While at UTEP, Mckenna has maintained a 3.50 GPA in her engineering studies and has also been named to the dean’s list.
She has been a member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority since her freshman year. As a member she has held the position of marshal and has been a member of the public relations council as well. The Alpha Xi Delta philanthropy is Autism Speaks and you will also find Hitter partaking in the various activities that the sorority promotes to raise money for this cause. Also, during her years at UTEP Hitter did participate in the excel program associated with the student government association. Hitter also worked in the Engineering Department as the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering peer advisor.
Away from UTEP, Hitter has volunteered her time in the Socorro Independent School District at her own Elementary School, Horizon Heights. There, Hitter has volunteered to help coach the destination imagination team alongside her mom for the past two years. Their team has placed first at the regional level and has advanced to state back-to-back years.
Hitter also volunteers in the classroom tutoring students in math and reading and helps work elementary at summer camps. She is also working on becoming a substitute teacher. Mckenna has also volunteered some time in visiting the children at the children’s hospital and has helped collect toys for them during the holidays.
Hitter said that growing up in El Paso she was introduced to many of the traditions El Paso has to offer. Whether it’s UTEP sports, chihuahuas baseball games, viva El Paso, Fort Bliss or the Sun Bowl, Hitter has seen the traditions and has learned what our community is about. The Sun Bowl puts El Paso on a national stage and what better way to spread the Goodwill of El Paso and the Sun Bowl by being a part of the Sun Court.
Stephanie Paz is the daughter of Juan and Yvette Silvas-Paz. A graduate of Harmony Science Academy in El Paso, Stephanie is now a senior at The University of Texas at El Paso where she is a Psychology major, minoring in Biology.
Paz is a Native American woman from El Paso’s very own Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tigua tribe. She is a member of the women’s fraternity Zeta Tau Alpha at UTEP where she has held leadership positions on the fraternity’s Executive Committee as Historian-Reporter, Membership Chair, and New Member Coordinator.
She is currently the fraternity’s President where she delegates her committee and directs the fraternity. Through ZETA she has been able to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Cancer Run and many events that support the fraternity’s Breast Cancer Education & Awareness Philanthropy.
Paz served as Vice President of Recruitment for the College Panhellenic Council in 2017 where she organized Formal Recruitment and promoted Panhellenic Sorority Life at UTEP. She was awarded the “2017 Greek Woman of the Year” title after representing and promoting Greek Life on campus in the most positive manner and works with all the chapters.
From 2016 to 2017, Paz served as a Senator-at-Large for the university’s Student Government Association. As a Senator-at-Large, representing one thousand students, she voiced student concerns at the local college level and created “special projects” for the student body to benefit. Her platform focused on raising awareness on dating violence and sexual assault among college students and campuses by moderating films followed by open discussions.
In Paz’s Native American community, she is an advocate for Native American youth and health. She currently works at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Department of Tribal Empowerment as a Student Success Advisor. As a Student Success Advisor, she advocates for and assists in higher education in Tribal high school students and serves as a mentor.
Paz was the first female governor for her tribe’s Tigua Youth Council where she and her council created a skate park in her tribal community to promote and foster healthy lifestyles for tribal youth. As an active member, she advocates not only for her tribe but for the Indian Country in all aspects regarding physical, mental, and spiritual health. Paz sat on the National Indian Health Board’s Tribal Youth Health Advisory Board in 2017 where she assisted in Native American health on both the local and national level.
Paz is humbled and honored to be the El Paso Sun Court’s 2018-19 Lady-In-Waiting as she takes a great amount of pride in being a woman, a minority, and an El Pasoan. As a Sun Princess, she appreciated the empowerment of her follow Sun Court and young women in El Paso. As Lady-In-Waiting, she intends to empower the Sun Court and proudly represent El Paso through the title.
The following women were selected to Sun Court this year: Kristen Ahumada, Courtney Chesanek, Daisy Colon, Ayla Lopez, Diana Martinez, Tomiko Reyes, Kirsten Stephenson, Elizabeth Vega, Alina Ward and Sydney Ward.
Kristen Ahumada is a senior at the University of Texas of El Paso majoring in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Medicine. Ahumada is a graduate of Coronado High School and is the daughter of Michael and Aida Ahumada. After graduation, she plans to become a physician, specializing in pediatrics, and working in the El Paso del Norte region.
Ahumada has been heavily involved in various organizations. This past academic year, she served as UTEP’s student body President where she represented over 25,000 students on a local, state, and national level. She has taken the position of President for the university honors council, served as a Senator-at-Large in the Student Government Association, and assisted as Vice-President of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society.
Other honors for Ahumada include being a Dillard scholarship recipient, a 21st century scholar, and being named Who’s Who among students in American universities and colleges. In addition, she has been involved with various places such as the center against sexual and family violence. Ahumada has also traveled to Spain and Morocco and conducted service abroad to help global preservation by constructing refuge hutches for libre de monte rabbits.
She mentioned that with her previous community service experience and her understanding of the importance of giving back to the El Paso community, as a part of the 2018 sun court, she could successfully convey the mission statement of the Sun Bowl Association.
Courtney Chesanek is a graduate of Franklin High School and the daughter of Curtis and Birdie Chesanek. She is senior at the University of Texas at El Paso majoring in Science Biology. Upon graduation, she plans to become a physician’s assistant and work in an underserved community.
Chesanek is involved with various school organizations as she is currently a Miner Ambassador, the Vice-President of the Society for Collegiate Leadership and Success, as well as a member of the Student Government Supreme Court Justice.
Apart from being a member of various school organizations, Chesanek also helps the El Paso community as much as she can. She has volunteered for Project Move, the student organization retreat, and even teaching weekly classes at her alma mater, Roberts Elementary School, to students from the age of 6-years-old to 11-years-old. Chesanek also serves as an EMT and uniform chair for the Franklin High School marching band.
She expressed that by being a Sun Princess, she will represent the city that she loves and hopefully show people the hospitality, warmth, history, and culture the El Paso area has to offer.
Daisy Colon is a Texas State University student majoring in Mass Communications and Electronic Media while minoring in Spanish. She is the daughter of Juan and Sadie Colon and is a graduate of Eastwood High School. Daisy is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and currently holds an internship at ABC7-KVIA.
She is also a member of the Delta Gamma, Zeta Eta chapter where she has helped raise more than ten thousand dollars as a volunteer at the Texas School for Blind and Visually Impaired. Colon is a sports reporter for University Star where she puts out weekly features of athletes, conducts post-game interviews with coaches and players, as well as live updates for Texas State Athletics.
Sports have always been a part of her life, which is why she is working hard to one day become an analyst for the MLB network, where she wishes to shine a light on international players that predominantly speak Spanish. Colon says she cherishes her family and friends even more, now that she resides in San Marcos, Texas. She says that to her, representing El Paso as a Sun Princess means that she will be able to give back as much as she can to her community, in gratitude to the city that she holds near and dear to her heart.
Ayla Lopez is a graduate of Franklin High School and currently a junior at Texas Tech University. Lopez is the daughter of Manuel and Sylvia Lopez. Majoring in Kinesiology with a minor in Psychology, she is studying to become an Occupational Therapist.
Lopez has maintained a 4.0 GPA, earning multiple scholarships and a spot on the Texas Tech’s President’s honor list. Lopez is involved with many clubs such as the Tech Pre-Occupational Therapy Club, Health Occupation Students of America, and Love Your Melon (a campus crew that brings awareness to childhood cancer).
Over the past few summers, Lopez has returned to El Paso to help as a volunteer coach for the USA track & field team, which is the grassroots to the USA Olympic team. She has also volunteered at the nursing supporting services in her university’s medical center. Moreover, Lopez found her passion to help people with mental illnesses while as an intern at the sunrise canyon psychiatric hospital. After graduating from Texas Tech, Lopez plans to return to El Paso and give back to her community.
As a Sun Princess, Lopez wants to become a role model for all young girls in El Paso by demonstrating to young girls that excelling in school and giving back to your community can give you the confidence to overcome obstacles and make a name for yourself and your city. According to Lopez, El Paso is “a hidden jewel with great people.”
Diana Martinez is a graduate of Hanks High School and currently a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso. She is the daughter of Daniel and Gabriela Martinez. Upon graduation, she will have earned a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology with minors in Biology and Spanish. Ultimately, her goal is to become a physical therapist to help the elderly along with athletes in rehabilitation.
Diana is a Presidential Excellence Scholarship recipient, which is awarded to students with exceptional leadership skills. She has also been on the Dean’s List for three consecutive years. Adding to her scholastic achievements, she is the Social Media Coordinator for the Kinesiology Club in UTEP.
Besides her involvement in school, Martinez also takes the time to volunteer. She has also volunteered at El Paso Orthopedic Surgery Group where she gained extensive experience in rehabilitation and therapy from the therapists she worked under.
Being part of the Sun Court is a significant accomplishment for Martinez because she feels that the Sun Court displays the grace and forte of a group of educated women and what they have to offer future generations.
Tomiko Reyes is the daughter of Rose Reyes. She is a sophomore studying Digital Media Production at the University of Texas at El Paso and a former graduate of El Paso High School. When she graduates, she plans to pursue a career as a television and film writer before eventually producing her own work in television, film or print.
During her time at UTEP, Reyes has been involved with the Gamma Gamma chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha. Being part of this organization has landed her the position of vice president where her job is to teach her chapter how to focus on values of young women. While associated with this organization, it has given Reyes the chance to attend the Officer Leadership Academy for ZTA where she gained valuable leadership skills with other chapter leaders.
Equally, Reyes also spends her time volunteering and giving back to her community. She has volunteered in locally, which includes several schools throughout the years. Reyes has also made strides against breast cancer.
Reyes is a strong advocate for women and stated that being part of the Sun Court will not only allow her to showcase the importance for women to empower other women, but also allow her to be a voice for the El Paso area and represent the Sun Bowl Association.
Kirsten Stephenson is the daughter of Jerry and Kim Stephenson. She is a junior at the University of Texas in San Antonio, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a certification in Early Childhood to Sixth Grade Education. She attended Burgess High School and graduated in the top 10% of the 2016 class. During her time in high school, Stephenson was freshman class president, sophomore class vice president, a member of the volleyball team, amici chorea dance group, National Honor Society, Student Council and participated in UIL Social Studies.
Stephenson has volunteered at several organizations including Special Olympics, Make-a-Wish Foundation, the YMCA of El Paso, Toys for Tots, the Sun Bowl Association and Work Out-Help Out. Currently, she is a UTSA Ambassador and the President of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Stephenson feels that the Sun Bowl Association and the City of El Paso are her home, which is why her favorite quote by Malala Yousafzai is “If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.”
Elizabeth Vega is the daughter of Angela Olivas and Manuel Vega. Vega is a graduate of Coronado High School and currently a junior at UTEP majoring in Marketing with a minor in Marketing Analytics. Vega holds a 4.0 GPA and was on the dean’s list at both UTEP and the University of Arizona, where she first started her college education. There, she was the Facebook Manager for the Pace Program, Brand Director for the Social Media Club, and Vice President of IT for the Eller Dean’s Council.
She did an internship at UTEP with the Athletics Media Relations Department, where she gained professional experience as part of her career goals. Vega also joined Zeta Tau Alpha as the Recruitment Prep Secretary, where she participated in multiple events targeted towards breast cancer education and awareness.
Vega mentioned that as a child she would picture herself wearing the tiara and sash, waving to the crowd from the float during the Sun Bowl Thanksgiving Day parade, and walking down the field before the start of the Sun Bowl game. Vega is honored to represent the Sun Bowl Association and the City of El Paso on this year’s Sun Court.
Alina Ward is the daughter of Brook and Cecilia Ward. Ward is a graduate of Coronado high school and now a senior at Sam Houston University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology. upon graduation, she plans to guide individuals and help them resolve any problem they might be facing whether that be through counseling or social work.
Ward is looking to enroll at fuller theological seminary school that will not only help her gain a solid foundation of theological education but will also equip her with a license to be a counselor. Her interest in Psychology, is one of the main reasons for choosing fuller.
During her time in college, Ward has served on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes leadership team where she has had the chance to grow as a leader, going as far as visiting the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. She completed an internship with the cultural district of Huntsville at the Wynne Home Arts Center where her job was to implement art classes for families and children.
Ward enjoys engaging with her community, she respects and adores the diversity that thrives here in the borderland and is honored to be a Sun Princess.
Sydney Ward is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, pursuing a degree in Accounting. She is a graduate of Coronado High School and the daughter of Brook and Cecilis Ward. Ward has been involved in various organizations including the Hispanic American Student Association, CRU, a Christian organization also known as Campus Crusades for Christ, and Traction, another Christian program.
For her upcoming school year, she plans to get involved in the Women in Business Association, as well as the Beta Alpha Psi. Ward has also volunteered in a couple of community service activities throughout her high school years and her time at the university. Ward volunteered at the Braden Abound Foundation shoe giveaway, Sunrise Rotary Golf Tournament, El Paso Spring Foot Marathon, Dia de Los Ninos, Dia de Los Libros, Diabetes Association Run/Walk, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Walk, and vacation bible school at St. Matthews Catholic Church.
Ward considers herself a woman of faith, family oriented, and simply lucky to call El Paso her home. She wants to continue to serve her community and give back as often as she can. As a Sun Princess, Ward wants to be an ambassador for El Paso, fulfilling every duty that Sun Princess must carry out with great honor and passion.
Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post