NEW BEDFORD — A New Bedford High School student who won "Miss New Bedford Outstanding Teen" earlier this month has had to give up the title after an eligibility mix-up.

Kieyana Fleming was crowned this year's outstanding teen after a rigorous process that demonstrated the 18-year-old's confidence and drive.

But a misunderstanding over new age eligibility rules from the Miss America Organization — coming after a two-year break due to the pandemic — forced the New Bedford group behind the crown to rescind the title after discovering that Fleming was, in fact, ineligible.

"This has never, ever happened before," said the Miss New Bedford Scholarship Programs Local Director Donna Wirzburger, who called the situation "heartbreaking."

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Wirzburger explained that Fleming will be able to keep all of her scholarship award money, "because she's earned it," and she will be able to continue her work promoting body positivity in the community.

Fleming will also be able to make all her scheduled appearances under a new title: Miss Whaling City's Teen.

The Miss New Bedford Outstanding Teen title has instead been handed to Hannah Lima, the first runner up in the competition, who will be moving on to a state-level competition.

Wirzburger explained that the organization had missed a new requirement and believed that Fleming was eligible for the award when they crowned her in October.

But Fleming will turn 19 before the end of 2022, which is against the new rules.

Program officials noted in a statement that they worked with state directors and the Miss America Organization to establish Kieyana's eligibility and allow her to keep the "well-deserved" title, but she was ultimately disqualified from competing.

"Kieyana represents the ideals and values of our program, and what we seek to find in our reigning titleholder," the statement read.

The new Whaling City title is just for this year and will not be affiliated with the Miss America Organization or competition.

New Bedford leaders and activists spoke out against revoking the teen's original title.

“What an awful thing to do to a young person," said Renee Ledbetter of the NAACP New Bedford. "Miss Fleming did everything required for the contest, and her excellence is attested to by the fact that she was crowned.”

Meanwhile community activist Karen Ramos commented, "Miss Flemming deserves the legacy of being the first young African-American to hold the title of New Bedford Outstanding Teen."

"She’s involved in the community and she’s a model student," Ramos added. "She’s a role model. She earned the crown of Miss New Bedford Outstanding Teen.”

 

"At the end of the day, what's most important is this young woman," said Wirzburger.

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