Kayla Miss Delaware Teen 2024

Kayla Kosmalski shatters barrier by winning Miss Delaware Teen

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines, Summer

KaylaMiss Delaware Teen 2024

It’s a big year for Miss Delaware Teen USA 2024: Kayla Kosmalski is graduating from Middletown High, turning 18, going to prom, planning for college and becoming the first person with Down Syndrome to compete in a major national pageant.


No one was more surprised than Kayla Kosmalski to hear her name called as Miss Delaware Teen USA 2024 Sunday night.

Now the Middletown cheerleader, swimmer and honor student will become the first contestant with Down syndrome to participate in the national pageant when it’s televised Aug. 1 on the CW Netrwork.

She said Tuesday that she’s wearing the crown for everyone with Down syndrome and disabilities.

“Everyone can do anything if they dream big and achieve goals,” she said.

Despite this year being a busy one — Kosmalski turns 18 next week, will graduate from Middletown High, is participating in the spring musical, going to prom and making plans to attend Wilmington College, one of the 11 colleges including Penn State who accepted her  — she was determined to participate in the pageant, too.

A pageant veteran, she had participated in the pageant once before, but wasn’t able to last year. Her family was too involved in the care of her grandmother, Nancy Baker, who has battled two different cancers and then had a stroke.

But Kosmalski’s mom, Amy, had promised Kayla they would make time for her to compete again this year.

She and her husband, Rick, and grandma Nancy were in the crowd when Kayla made it to the top 6.

“It was down to Kayla and the first runner up, and I thought, well, first runner up. This is fantastic. No one with Down syndrome has ever been able to do anything like this,” Amy said.

Then the other teen was named first runner-up and Kayla was crowned.

Amy said she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t scream, she couldn’t even stand up.

“My legs were shaking,” she said.

Kayla hadn’t been able to spot her parents during the pageant, but as she walked across the stage wearing her crown, she found her sobbing mother in the audience and with a dazzling smile pointed at her.

Her mom, Kayla joked, “has been crying my entire life.”

Also crowned Sunday night was Alysa Bainbridge, Miss Delaware USA 2024.

Bainbridge is a speaker, host and social media specialist who founded the non-profit “Tyler’s Triumph,”  which provides support for people in recovery from mental illness and addiction. It’s named for her brother, Tyler.

She will compete for the national title of Miss USA in the televised pageant Sunday, Aug. 4.


kayla Miss Delaware Teen 2024

Kayla Kosmalski points to her mom in the audience as she walks the stage Sunday after being named Miss Delaware Teen USA 2024. Photo courtesy of Miss Delaware Teen USA pageant.

Kayla and the spotlight

When Kayla was born, Amy said the diagnosis of Down syndrome crushed all of her dreams for her little girl.

“I would cry in the shower for the first couple of weeks,” she said.

All of the books she read about the syndrome basically said what her child would not be able to do.

“A few weeks into loving her and having her at home, I thought this is not what Down syndrome has to be,” Amy said. “I am going to love her. I am going to encourage her the same as I will any other child that we’re blessed to have …

“Kayla’s going to write her own story.”

She set about making sure Kayla had early-intervention therapists who came to their home, mostly twice a week. Amy would work with Kayla on the same techniques the therapists used, trying to make them fun.

From the start, though, Kayla loved the spotlight.

“She asked Santa when she was three years old for a stage, so Santa delivered a silver sparkly stage right in the middle of our living room,” Amy said.

“I still have it,” Kayla said.

She became a cheerleader before high school, modeled for the Gap and has had several acting jobs, the most recent being the independent film “I Win,” directed by Robin Hoffman. A trailer for that has just come out, Kayla said. A note online says the makers are seeking distribution.

But Kayla’s interests haven’t only been about furthering her career.

She and her family helped push the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act. It changed a federal law that said people with disabilities who received government benefits could only have $2,000 in assets, or they would lose benefits. That severely limited what they could do, including saving for college and other expenses.

The 2015 law, called the Kayla Act in Delaware, now allows disabled people to save up $14,000 a year and have a maximum of $100,000 in savings.

As Kayla’s grown up, she’s become an advocate for the rights and inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

But when the pageant host asked her on state who her hero was, she didn’t hesitate.

“My favorite hero is my grandma because she is a fighter. She’s been going through two cancers and strokes,” Kayla told her. “She’s been going through so much and she’s been so grateful. She’s been positive. She’s been kind of loving to everyone.”

Kayla thinks of herself as following in her mom’s footsteps in some ways. Her mom was also a cheerleader and swimmer in high school, and demonstrates what Kayla calls the “professional energy” she also sees in her grandmom, herself and her 8-year-old sister, Brynnley.

“She taught me the value of being brave and courageous,” Kayla said.

kayla miss delaware teen 2024

Posing after Sunday night’s Miss Delaware USA pageant are, from left, Miss Delaware Teen USA Kayla Kosmalski, pageant Director Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, and Miss Delaware USA 2024 Alysa Bainbridge.

What happens next

While Kayla plans to major in communications at Wilmington University, she says that in 10 years, she’d like to be a successful actress.

She won’t be the first disabled person to participate in a national pageant.

In 1995, Heather Whitehead, a deaf ballerina from Alabama was named Miss America. In 2008, Abbey Curran, who was born with cerebral palsy, won the Miss Iowa title and participated in the Miss USA 2008 pageant in Las Vegas.

Between now and Aug. 1, Kayla will be working with fitness and interview coaches, practicing her pageant walk, acquiring a pageant wardrobe from sponsor Cecile Boutique and going back and forth from New York City while a dress is designed for her. They won’t share design details.

Pageant Executive Director Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, who was a Miss Delaware USA herself, said that she believes Kayla’s authenticity will radiate in the national pageant.

“The first thought that comes to mind is the genuine kindness, the authenticity,” Carriere-Russo said. “It’s so organic. It’s not staged. It’s not rehearsed. It’s so real, and that’s something we all look for in a titleholder, authenticity and staying true to who you are.”

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She’s known Kayla since they met when Carrieri-Russo hosted a Miss Amazing pageant, which includes people with development issues.

When Kayla and her mom reached out to say Kayla wanted to be in the Miss Delaware Teen USA pageant again, Carrieri-Russo immediately told them that each contestant is treated the same, something Amy really appreciated.

“We don’t want Kayla to be treated differently from anyone else,” she said.

Kayla grew up knowing from an early age that she was both different from any other children and yet the same.

“I have a disability,” she said, “and my disability can change the world.”


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