By Jamie H. Vaught
A former college cheerleader will be returning to the 2019 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival in Pineville as the reigning KMLF queen.
A new graduate of Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., Gabby Pyles has fond memories of KMLF last season and she can hardly wait to come back as the four-day festival begins on Thursday, May 23.
“It is hard to choose one favorite moment from KMLF last year because each moment is incredible, but I just loved all the times when I got to sit down and fellowship with people—whether the other participants or community members,” said Pyles, who had a double major in Human Services & Counseling and Christian Ministries. “I absolutely love meeting people and hearing their stories. Also, the concert and the dance were both some of my favorite times because I had such fun acting goofy with friends. It allowed us to just be ourselves and have fun together.
“My last favorite memory was everything dealing with my host home and family. They were absolutely incredible and felt like family. Their three children and I had so much fun. I just really enjoyed staying with them. They provided everything I needed and I never had to worry about anything. I’m very thankful for them and cannot wait to see them again.
“This was my first trip to Pineville in the mountains. I was blown away at the beauty, first of all. I have always loved the mountains so being in the middle of them for the weekend was just amazing. God is so creative and loves blowing our mind with His creation. All the people were so great. I cannot wait to be back in Pineville soon.”
While at Lindsey Wilson, Pyles was a very active student, including three years as a cheerleader. She said her biggest moment as a cheerleader took place in 2017 when her cheerleading squad captured the Mid-South Conference title. (Mid-South Conference includes several other NAIA schools from Kentucky – Campbellsville University, University of the Cumberlands, Georgetown College and University of Pikeville.)
“It was an incredible moment,” said Pyles, a graduate of Taylor County High School in Campbellsville. “It was also the first time my whole family, including my dad, was able to be there to watch me cheer since early middle school. Nothing meant more to me than having them all there. It was amazing.”
In addition to cheerleading at LWC, Pyles was a Bonner Scholar, a Lindsey Wilson Singer, a student ambassador and tour guide, a Peer Mentor, tutor, writing fellow, a Student Government Association senator, a member of the Student Activities Board, as well as the founder of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She also has been involved in leading a couple of other ministries on campus, including LIFE (Wednesday night worship service) and Campus Alpha (a video series about Christianity).
That’s not all. Pyles also served as the first runner-up Homecoming Queen during her freshman year before she won Homecoming Queen honors her senior year.
Pyles pointed out she is certainly very thankful for her college experience, including a tour with the LWC Singers to Hawaii as a sophomore when the group was asked to represent the state to sing at the 75th Commemoration of the Pearl Harbor Attack.
“While these are some big moments I will never forget, each moment here has been special in its own way,” she commented. “God has spoken to me so much through His creation just walking around on campus. I will always smile when I think about Lindsey Wilson College, and all the relationships and opportunities it has given me.”
Pyles admitted she was very surprised last May when she was chosen the KMLF queen.
“I did not even know what to think,” smiled Pyles, who is getting married this summer. “When I was asked to be the representative from LWC to attend the festival, I had no clue what was in store for me. I had never even heard of the festival until last spring when our Dean of Students asked me to be the representative. I have never done any pageants or anything like this before. The only time I’ve worn a formal dress was at prom in high school.
“So basically, I felt extremely unqualified, but I agreed to it and knew I would do my best which meant just being myself and sharing the love that Jesus gives me every single day. I was very honored when they called my name. All I could think about was how loved I am by God. When they were putting the crown and everything on me, I felt like the Lord was wrapping His arms around me and calling me His princess, which He does each day. It was such a beautiful moment and accurate representation of how God views each of His children.”
After the 2019 KMLF ends, Pyles plans to work at home this summer and start classes for the master’s program which starts in early June.
“I’m pursuing speech-language pathology and am enrolled in the pre-SLP program through Western Kentucky University,” she said. “Also, I will be getting married August 3..It is such a blessing. Christian and I started dating right around the time of KMLF last year, but he was not able to come to the festival. This year he will be there as my escort, though, so I cannot wait for him to experience it with me.”
According to KMLF’s website, the popular festival, which began in 1931, is believed to be the oldest continuous event of its kind in the United States. It has been held annually except for the World War II years.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.