By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Staff Writer
It’s one of those dream scenarios that you never realistically believe could come true.
“We would drive down Orange Grove, and she would look into the Tournament House and say, ‘I can be a princess, I can be the queen,’ and we’d always tell her, ‘Yes, you can.’”
Angela Ballard had always made it a point to support the dreams of her young daughter, Bella. The little girl had lofty visions of herself doing great things, reaching immeasureable heights.
“Who can ever say it will actually happen? So when her name was called, our jaws were dropping just as much as hers,” Angela told The Rafu, after Bella was named the 104th Rose Queen on Oct. 25.
The 17-year-old will make another trip up Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena – then turn right on Colorado – as she rides atop the Queen’s float in the 2023 Tournament of Roses Parade.
“It’s surreal,” Angela added, still absorbing her family’s new reality.
In keeping with the tradition of not staging New Year’s events on a Sunday, the parade will be held on Monday, Jan. 2.
Bella, who lives in Altadena and is completeing her senior year of high school online through the Ogburn School, said she and a few friends decided to test their luck along with hundreds of other local girls, and attend the first round of auditions for the seven spots on the Tournament of Roses royal court.
“I’ve always watched the parade, it was a tradition in my family. I’m 17 and thought why not try out?” she explained. “There’s no harm in trying, and I get to see the house and meet some amazing girls.”
Angela was more than happy to accompany Bella to that initial tryout, saying the family was excited to support her through something she had wanted to try since she was very young.
“I took her to the very first interview and she and I were walking the grounds thinking what a great experience it was,” Angela said. “I told her to enjoy every moment, and if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
What indeed happened was that the shot in the dark became increasingly brighter, as Bella received messages informing her that she had advanced to the next levels.
“It just kept going,” Bella said. “Each week I’d get emails saying, ‘Congratulations,
you made it to the next round,’ and pretty soon, I made it to the final 28.
“All I could think at that point was how grateful I was to have made it that far, but they’re never going to choose an online student to be a princess. That’s just not traditional.”
She said the reality didn’t fully kick in until she was chosen to be among the final seven to represent the Tournament of Roses for the next year.
“It probably wasn’t until a day after that I realized I’m involved now, there will be hundreds of events to attend,” she said.
It took a few moments, almost as if she didn’t remember her own name, when she was announced as the Queen on the steps of that same house upon which she gazed from the backseat of her parents’ car all those years ago.
“It was a shock. I probably had the same reaction as past queens, and I told the other princesses, ‘I’m going to cry, please block me from the cameras.’”
Donning the Queen’s tiara is hardly the first impressive accomplishment – and certainly not the last – for Bella, who in spite of her young age has made a solid impact in (or on) a very different field of endeavor.
A once-in-a-lifetime celebration at the coronation for the Ballard family: sister Samantha, mother Angela, Queen Bella and father Joe. (Courtesy Pasadena Tournament of Roses)
From her very early years, she has starred on the soccer pitch, first taking up the sport with the Bulls Soccer Club in her mother’s home state of Hawaii. She has quite literally taken the ball and run with it ever since, excelling at every level and training among the elite players in the region.
Her love, passion and commitment to the game were, in fact, deciding factors in her choice of high school.
“With all the traveling and the training sessions, I wanted my schedule to be flexible, so I made the choice to do online school a long time ago,” she explained.
Bella certainly boasts a pedigree for the beautiful game, and for sports in general. Angela was a four-year standout in soccer at Loyola Marymount University, and her father, Joe, is a professional trainer.
It is from a platform of athletics that Bella hopes to contribute on a much broader scale.
“I especially love giving back to the community in any way I can, and that one way is through women’s sports,” she said during a brief interview immediately before being announced as the Rose Queen.
In her non-training, non-royalty hours, Bella enjoys spending time playing tennis and creating art with her younger sister, Samantha, and treasures visits with grandparents Miles and Barbara Ichinose in Honolulu.
“I’ve always felt very connected to my grandparents, going to visit for holidays, spring break, summer. They always make delicious Japanese food, and we’ve adopted the New Year’s tradition of rolling sushi for good luck.”
While no decisions have yet been finalized, Bella’s next goals include playing competitve soccer in college, with an interest in studying both economics and astrophysics in college.
Angela would be understandably proud to see her daughter follow her own pathway to college soccer, but she’s confident Bella will make her own indelible mark in the world.
“If it’s in the cards for her to continue beyond collegiate, I think she’ll be absolutely wonderful at it,” Angela said. “Bella’s passion and dedication speaks of taking her game to the next level. One way or another, she’s going to have an impact, either on the field or off.”