When Briana Leigh Morfin was 5 years old, she remembers having her eye drawn to a sparkling crown worn by a homecoming queen at a parade. For a brief moment, the homecoming queen made eye contact with Morfin and waved, leaving Morfin with a feeling of special recognition.

Now as a national beauty pageant titleholder, Morfin said she hopes to channel the attention drawn by her crown into positive efforts, and to inspire young girls the way that homecoming queen inspired her.

“I want to give that attention and feeling back to other little girls. So every chance I get, I love to let little girls wear the crown,” Morfin said. “It makes their day. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be remembered by another little girl.”

Morfin, a 22-year-old broadcast journalism major at UNM, won the Pageant National Ms. 2013 title at a competition held in Orange, Calif., Aug. 13-18. It was the first national event for the new pageant circuit.

The win came as a shock to Morfin, she said, especially considering the circumstances.

The Pageant featured four age divisions: “Jr. teen” for ages 13 to 15; “Teen” for ages 16 to 19; “Miss” for ages 20 to 26; and “Ms.” for ages 27 to 35. But Morfin said there were no women in the oldest age category and the contestants assumed there would be no Ms. winner.

The Miss title came down to Morfin and Heidi Schmidt, who represented California; Schmidt won.

After Schmidt took her celebratory walk across the stage, Morfin said emcee Lana Henry announced that there was still one crown to be awarded. That crown, for the Ms. winner, went to Morfin.

A judge later told Morfin that she and Schmidt had a tie score in the Miss division and since Morfin impressed pageant officials, they awarded her the Ms. title that otherwise would have been vacant.

“There were girls that we could have given that title to, but we chose to give it to Briana because we thought she exemplified all the qualities of a leader as well as wearing that title for our pageant system,” pageant director Camille Winters said.

Morfin called it a “total shocker moment.”

“It was like Christmas,” she said. “It’s like when your parents give you all your presents and you open them all up and you’re happy with what you got, but then they’re like ‘Wait, wait, wait. We have one more present for you.’”

Unlike more established circuits, The Pageant did not have contestants from all 50 states since it is in its first year.

According to its website, The Pageant includes competitions in interviews, swimsuit/fitness wear, evening gowns and on-stage introductions/oral expression.

Morfin said pageant officials contacted her to see if she’d be interested in the competition. Having participated in pageants since she was 13, finishing as a 2009 Miss USA teen runner-up and a 2011-12 Miss Teen Earth New Mexico winner, Morfin said she had thought it was time to end her pageant career and pursue other interests.

But she decided to give it a go, submitting an application and essay to the organization before earning the bid to compete. She will serve alongside Schmidt, National Teen Alyssa Magalong and National Jr. Teen Olivia Jensen.

“Even how this one fit in is kind of funny,” she said. “I still have a year now for my reign. We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll have a blast. It’s always nice to do community service and all the experiences within it. It just sort of fell in my lap.”