Daniel Smith thought he had jinxed his daughter Brittany.
He had missed the Miss Midland Valley Pageant last year when she won Miss Junior. He also missed a pageant in which she ranked high.
This year, though, he returned from Iraq just in time to see her compete for the crown - and win.
It was a good thing she won, too, or she might have broken a family tradition. When the crown recently was placed onto her head, Brittany became the fourth in her family to be crowned Miss Midland Valley in five years.
"I wanted to keep it in my family," Brittany said. "It was good to have my cousin crown me and not someone else. When we were little, we were really close."
Her cousin Jill Willis started the family pageant crusade by taking the crown in 2001.
Ms. Willis' sister Emily followed in 2003, and cousin Tara Frank, a pageant newcomer, won last year.
The tension was high for Brittany, said the 17-year-old's mother, Faith.
"Everybody had already won, so my daughter was under a lot of pressure" to keep up the tradition, she said.
Only a senior can be crowned Miss Midland Valley, and had Tara not skipped a grade, the cousins might have ended up competing against each other for this year's crown.
Tara, a 17-year-old freshman at the College of Charleston, said she entered the pageant last year because it was "something way, way outside of my comfort zone."
All four girls play an instrument, using their musical talents to score high in the talent competition.
"So a lot of it is good stage performance and good stage presence," Tara said.
Everyone but Jill plays the piano. She plays the violin.
Their musical talent was passed down from their grandmother Fannie Reese, who also plays the piano.
"I think it's an honor for them to be able to do that," Mr. Smith said. "It really ought to make their grandmother proud, because she's the one who started all that."
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.