photograph by Marci Lambert
At cheer practice, 12-year-old Iyonia Boyce sails high, pulling up to a standing position as she balances on the shoulders of her teammates. Once atop the pyramid, she flashes a triumphant smile. She’s a flyer, the girl who does flips and spirals on her cheer team. Iyonia might be tiny, but she’s all muscle. The gleam in her eyes says she’s pushing hard towards her goal.
Her mother saw that same spark when her daughter found a pair of high heels just right for an upcoming beauty pageant. Never mind that they were three-and-a-half inches tall.
“You can’t wear those shoes,” protested her mother, Rachell. “Watch me,” said Iyonia. Mastering the heels, she went on to win the International Junior Miss Tennessee Pre-Teen 2011 title. With the drive to excell, this sixth grader also hones her interview skills, working regularly with a pageant coach. “You never have to tell her anything twice,” says Iyonia’s cheer coach, Justin Morries. The ability to “listen and correct” helps the tween shine at cheer competitions, pageants, and school.
In 2012, Iyonia helped the All Star competitive Southaven Wildcats cheer team win the International All Star Championship for Youth Level 1. Now she’s concentrating on cheering for her team at Collierville Middle School. Iyonia was just 9 when she started competing in ‘natural’ pre-teen pageants, which generally ban make-up and encourage girls to show their personalities. Iyonia soaked up tips from her pageant coach, Ivy DePew, Miss Memphis 2010 and won Miss Ponola County 2009, USA National Miss Tennessee Pre-Teen 2010, and her International Junior Miss title.
“She’s gained confidence and character-building that has led to leadership,” says her mother.
This month, Iyonia competes for the Miss Tennessee Junior High School America in the Miss High School & Collegiate America Pageant. The pageant takes place October 27th and 28th, at the Buckman Performing Arts Center.
Even when she’s not in gowns, Iyonia hardly blends into the crowd. Last year, she made a perfect score on her TCAP assessment. While her solo victories are impressive, “one of Iyonia’s strengths is that she encourages others,” says Morries. That comes from understanding what it means to need help.
“When I was little, I had struggles,” she says. “Now I want to help other kids.” Iyonia was a fragile preemie, born one month early. At the time, the March of Dimes was a big support to her family. So Iyonia honors that assistance by participating in the March of Dimes Walk. She also founded Little Divas, a group of 10 friends who volunteer to support good causes. In fact, Iyonia completed 263 hours of community service last year, earning her the Tennessee Ambassador of Goodwill Award, given out by Governor Haslam.
Iyonia’s father, Juan Boyce, Sr., is a police sergeant with the Mounted Patrol. She plays football with her 7-year-old brother, B.J. When the preteen spoke at a fund-raiser for Pushing Outstanding Excellence for Kids, she smiled warmly and urged others to follow their paths, too.
“Every child should be themselves, no matter who they are or how others feel about them,” she says.