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OSHKOSH — Racine’s own Paula Mae Kuiper is the next Miss Wisconsin, besting 22 other women to win the statewide crown Saturday, and now poised to compete in the national Miss America Pageant.

Miss Wisconsin 2012 Kate Gorman, of La Crosse, pinned the crown on Kuiper’s head Saturday on-stage in Oshkosh, after days of interviews, talent performances, and showcasing swim and formal-wear.

“It’s been such a whirlwind,” Kuiper said Sunday. “There are so many people along the way who say, ‘You can do it,’ but to actually become a reality is so surreal.”

Miss Racine 2002, Caitlin Morrall, was one of those encouraging voices.

“You could tell (Kuiper) had that mentality, even as a senior in high school,” said Morrall, who coached this year’s local competitors. “You could see that if she stuck with it, she would be Miss Wisconsin. We just didn’t know it would be so soon.”

Saturday marked Kuiper’s second year at the state pageant after she was crowned Miss Racine 2012. This year, she competed following her win as 2013’s Miss Madison/Capital City.

“Everyone cheers for Paula, because everyone likes Paula,” Morrall said Sunday. “She has a charm about her, and she just makes everyone feel comfortable and included, and she has that presence on-stage too.”

It doesn’t hurt that Kuiper, 19, brings an enthusiastic fan-base from home, Morrall added, laughing, “I feel like a good quarter of Racine probably comes up to watch.”

Among them was Kuiper’s grandmother, who she credits as the inspiration for her platform, “Breaking the Age Barrier.”

“My own personal relationship with my nanna is really, really great, and I just wanted everybody to be able to share that, not just with their grandparents, but with seniors in general,” said Kuiper, who hopes to partner with programs for those with Alzheimer’s and with the Wish of a Lifetime organization, which grants wishes to elderly people who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

The Miss Wisconsin title comes with $10,000 in scholarship money, and affords Kuiper the opportunity to travel the state promoting her platform.

Kuiper, a 2012 Case High School graduate currently majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was one of seven local women competing in the 2013 Miss Wisconsin and Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen pageants this weekend.

The winner of Miss Racine’s sister pageant, Miss Southern Lakes 2013 Tara Pizer, also made the Top Ten. Miss Racine 2013 Elise Elmblad netted hundreds in scholarship dollars as the non-finalist talent winner. Case student JamieNicole Morelan was crowned Miss Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teen earlier that same weekend.

Morelan and Kuiper will go on to compete in their respective national pageants later this year.

Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition takes place in Orlando, Fla., this August, and the 2014 Miss America Pageant will be broadcast live from Atlantic City this September.

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