The dreams of Will Isgett: Darlington pageant director steps down after 18 years

Will Isgett by his favorite building in Darlington, the JC Daniel Theater.  Photo by Jana E. Pye

Will Isgett by his favorite building in Darlington, the JC Daniel Theater.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

With a smile and a twinkle in his eye, Will Isgett never meets a stranger. Once you meet him, you immediately see that he has something special…yet he invariably notices something special about you. His intuition for finding your hidden dreams, and his effervescent optimism have served him well as a volunteer with the Miss South Carolina pageant system; and now after 18 years he is going to take some much deserved time to fulfill a few more of his own dreams.

“I have always told my girls to work towards their dreams, and not let anything hold them back,” said Isgett. “So many feel like since they are from a small city like Darlington they cannot move on, but I always tell them to go for it. We all have but one life to live.”

Will doesn’t like to dwell on the fact that his diagnosis of Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy has slowed him down – in fact, he credits it with moving him forward in ways he may not have done otherwise.

“I was told I would be in a wheelchair by now, but I’ve kept moving on,” said Isgett. “The doctor that diagnosed me at MUSC told me that no matter what, I’d always have my mind. That has stayed with me and kept me going.”

He was diagnosed at age 34, and the strain of MD he has is a slower progressing form of the disease. “I will walk as long as I can,” he said. “Things are getting harder to do, I fall more frequently and getting up from a seated position is getting harder to do. Climbing is definitely a sign that I need to give up the pageant and take more time for myself, and spend some time in the gym to make my body stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can.”
But slowing down has never been his style.

Although his first love is sports – he supported all the sports at his alma mater St. John’s High School, and later majored in sports communication at the University of South Carolina – Isgett has always had a passion for media, and the arts. He was an intern with the Charlotte Knights, then an AAA affiliate with the Chicago White Sox, and moved back to Darlington after the death of this father.

Once back in Darlington, Will wrote for the News & Press and The Messenger, and supported the Darlington High School Falcons and the USC Gamecocks.

His involvement with pageants began early on when family members were involved in different pageants; his Aunt Ginger Perry was involved in the Miss Southern 500 pageant. Her daughter, Kaitlyn Bailey, was the Lady in Black for the Darlington Raceway in 2014 and 2015.

“The Miss South Carolina and Miss America pageants were always a favorite of mine,” said Isgett. “Johnny August was always someone that I idolized- I would go to his pageants every year. He did a great job recruiting, and always had 20 – 25 girls for compete for Miss Darlington. That was a pageant everyone enjoyed attending.”

Isgett says that Frances Kendall is his mentor, helping him when he started on the Florence committee and worked his way up to Code LED – Code Local Executive Director – with Chaz Ellis, who is the VP of the Miss South Carolina Pageant.

He later became the Director of Mid State, and decided to start Miss Darlington back.
“In 2008 I started it back at J.C. Daniels Auditorium.” said Isgett. “That is why J.C. Daniels so important to me, and that place has so much potential. I wish something could be done about for it to bring it back. There is such a need for that in the city. St. John’s Auditorium is great wonderful for smaller events, but we need J.C. Daniel.”

Several of his winners have placed very well at the state level; a former Teen winner was 4th Runner Up to Miss SC Teen Anna Mills Polatty, who competed at Miss SC this year as Miss Spartanburg.

“I was Will’s first Miss Darlington Teen in 2008. It was my first time competing in the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Organization; I finished as 4th runner up to Miss SC Teen.
I would not have been as successful had it not been for Will’s guidance. His constant support, encouragement, dedication to me and to the Miss SC Organization helped me succeed. Will holds a special place in my heart, and I am grateful for his friendship and continuous support.”
Anna Mills Polatty, Miss Darlington Teen in 2008

Igett has been recognized by the Miss S.C. Pageant and won for a Director of the Year
His former winner from 2010 was 4th Runner Up in Miss SC Pageant.

“When you win one of Will’s titles, you don’t only get the opportunity to work with an amazing director, you inherit a life-long friend. I am so thankful for the year that I served as his queen; however, the years of friendship, following my time as Miss Darlington, have meant more to me than anything I accomplished while competing in pageants.
Thank you for everything you have done for me, Will, and Go Cocks!”
Morgan Smoak,
Miss Darlington 2010

Later, the Miss S.C. Sweet Potato Festival Pageant opportunity arose. “ I want to thank Lynette Maloch and her granddaughter Whitney Brooks Moore were very instrumental in helping me get the Miss SC Sweet Potato Festival Pageant off the ground in 2013. Lynette was great helper to me and I really appreciate the help she gave. The Darlington Pilot Club has been wonderful and so supportive to me and the girls.”

Will’s winners have gone on to earn master’s degrees, work at large corporations, become nurses, receiving opportunities they may not have ever had.

“This whole experience has changed my perspective on life. I’ve made friends from all over, and have gained so much confidence. I used to be scared to speak in public, and now I am comfortable emceeing events.”

Isgett credits Mayor Gloria Hines, and former Mayor Tony Watkins, the Darlington Pilot Club, and the community in Darlington for their support.

“I want everyone to know that this has been a rewarding 18 years; although I have done this as a volunteer, with no pay at all, I wouldn’t trade a moment. Now I am completely disabled and cannot keep up the pace. I did it because it was something that I loved and it kept me going but time has now come for me to slow down more, and take more time to keep up my strength, and do some things that I want to do. I will probably still be helping with pageants in some small way, but not as a director any more.”

Although he has fulfilled many things on his bucket list, including trips to Texas, LA and Hollywood, and attending the Miss America pageant last spring, Isgett has added a few more; he will take voice lessons from his dear friend Kendall Standish in Darlington and audition for The Voice “I may not make it, by why not?” and he hopes to visit Hawaii, take an Amtrak train ride up the east coast, and perhaps a trip to the Miss American Outstanding Teen and another trip to Miss America.

“I don’t know what I would be doing if I were super healthy, there is no telling how far I may have gone,” said Isgett. “We all need to live life fully, no matter what our abilities. We can all fulfill our dreams.”

Author: Jana Pye

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