2017 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Drew Knotts’ childhood dream came true Saturday, Jan. 21, when she became the third person in her family to become a Florida Strawberry Festival royal.
When Drew Knotts was growing up, most of her babysitters were former Florida Strawberry Festival queens.
Her earliest memories of wanting to serve on the royal court started around age three, when the former queens — including Katie Butson (Sharer), Alison Archbell and her cousin, Chelsea Bowden — would bring their jeweled crowns over for Knotts to play with.
“I would be the strawberry queen for the day,” Knotts said. “We would play dress up. Ever since then, I’ve really just looked up to the strawberry queen. I’ve wanted to be her, I’ve wanted the title, I’ve wanted to represent Plant City.”
On Saturday, Jan. 21, Knotts stood as a member of the 2017 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen’s court, waiting on stage with baited breath before the winner was called.
Newly sashed First Maid Marlee Arn was beside her. Knotts had a one-in-four shot. Beyond the bright lights of the stage, her family was waiting. Knotts’ grandmother, 1953 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Ruby Jean Redman, was in the audience.
“Your 2017 Florida Strawberry Festival Queen is … Contestant Number Four, Drew Knotts!”
The crowd cheered and jumped to their feet. As 2016 Queen Haley Riley placed the new crown on Knotts’ head, she whispered to her to take her first walk as queen. Knotts did as she was told, walking down the runway in a gold gown and a crown on her head, waving to the crowd. Her childhood dream come true.
Only she wasn’t dreaming, and she wasn’t playing dress up.
She was part of something much bigger.
The New Queen
The Florida Strawberry Festival runs in Knotts’ family, from volunteer involvements to the queen’s royal history. Her cousin, Chelsea Bowden, was crowned in 2012. Her grandmother, Ruby Jean Redman, was crowned in 1953.
“My grandmother has a hallway full of old pictures of my mom and her sisters from when they were growing up,” Knotts said. “And her Strawberry Queen photos are on the wall. It’s so cool because she was in the same pageant. Every time we see it, we ask her about it. She’s been able to tell us all these stories from how it changed over time.”
Growing up around royals, Knotts knew the importance of both the queen’s pageant and the queen’s role in the community. The Plant City High School senior and fifth generation Plant Citian wasn’t able to participate in the pageant last year due to soccer recruiting — she serves as captain of the varsity team and has plans to play at Georgia Southern University in the fall — so she wanted to make her senior year special.
But this year, she faced similar challenges. After suffering a knee injury on her 18th birthday in November 2016, Knotts had to have knee surgery in December.
“Three weeks before the pageant I was on crutches,” she said. “I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to compete. But I set goals, we got into physical therapy and I worked really hard.”
Though it was her first time in the queen’s pageant, it wasn’t her first crown. In the past, she’s served as the Florida Strawberry Festival’s Junior Royalty Duchess, Princess and Queen.
But this particular pageant continued a longstanding legacy. With her hard-earned crown, Knotts had broken a record: three Florida Strawberry Festival queens from one family.
“It’s never been three times in a family before,” Knotts said. “I couldn’t be happier. I think that’s honestly a once in a lifetime thing. I’m just so thankful my grandmother (Ruby Jean Redman) was able to come. It’s something our family has looked forward to me doing, and it’s another thing we can bond over. I’m very family-oriented.”
In a way, Knotts said, she has the best of both worlds.
“I cheer,” she said. “I play competitive and high school soccer, and I’ve played varsity flag football for the past three years. I think it adds a little edge for the Strawberry Queen to be an athlete, but also to be a queen and be able to represent the town.”
Knotts said she hopes that, through her new role, she’ll be able to encourage other girls to do the same — even ones who don’t think they’re cut out for the pageant circuit.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Knotts said. “We’re perfect examples on the court. Every single one of us is an athlete or a singer. I didn’t pretend to be the perfect pageant girl, because I’m not. I mess up. I have bruises and scars on my legs, I don’t have perfect skin.
But I think that’s what makes me beautiful, that I’m comfortable in my own skin.”
When she won, Knotts said, she was grateful to be able to share the moment with her family, including her parents, Andy Knotts and Jeanne Redman Knotts, and her siblings, Regan and Jackson.
“My sister left me all kinds of positive quotes around the house,” Knotts said. “All that emotion came rushing to me on stage when they announced it because I knew that I was myself on stage, and that I gave it everything I could. The work finally paid off. I couldn’t even imagine a better moment than that.”
She was also grateful for the support from her hometown community.
“I’m just so thankful we have a loving community,” Knotts said. “Truly being supported by the community is something you don’t get everywhere, and I think that’s something that makes Plant City special. I’m going to try to do the best I can to fulfill the duties of the queen. I want Plant City to know wouldn’t have gone out for this pageant if I wasn’t 100% sure I could be that ambassador for this town.”
Contact Emily Topper at firstname.lastname@example.org.