By CHRIS BATEMAN
It will be three for the Mother Lode Roundup tiara this weekend.
Amid applause, hugs and tears, the 2003 Roundup Queen will be crowned after horsemanship competition at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds Arena at 10 a.m. tomorrow (free to the public) and a pageant at 5 p.m. Sunday ($10 at the Sonora Elks Lodge door).
But when outgoing Queen Kie Njirich crowns her successor, it will mark the end of far more than a weekend of competition.
For contestants Valerie Lagattuta and Caity Smith of Twain Harte and Mallory Wallace of Copperopolis, the pageant will mark the conclusion of nearly three months of friendly competition.
The three candidates were introduced at a possegrounds Queen Kickoff in mid-February. Since then, they have been busy selling rodeo tickets, honing riding skills, appearing at Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse-sponsored events and helping rid the streets of Jamestown and Sonora of Coyote Sam and his Roundup-hating gang.
To qualify, candidates must have already sold 250 rodeo tickets.
The princesses last weekend were interviewed by personality judges. For weeks, their efforts, attitude, conduct and appearance have been evaluated by "silent judges" observers appointed by the posse but unknown to the girls themselves.
Ticket sales, personality judging and silent judging all already completed together account for 40 percent of the total score.
In the horsemanship portion, contestants will compete in rail work, reining pattern, pole bending, barrel racing and queen salute at the fairgrounds tomorrow. That counts for 35 percent of their total scores.
The final 25 percent will be decided at the pageant, when the contestants introduce themselves, model outfits ranging from casual to Western to formal, and give a three- to five-minute speech on topics chosen by the posse.
The new queen will ride at the front of the Mother Lode Roundup Parade and in grand entries for both the May 10 and May 11 rodeo sessions. She will represent the posse at parades and other events throughout the coming year.