Allie LaForce entered the 2005 Miss Teen Ohio pageant to satisfy her mother. Lesa LaForce (née Rummell) -- Miss Ohio in 1977 -- thought her 16-year-old daughter could learn some coming-of-age skills preparing for the pageant.
"She said it would be a great experience for expanding my interviewing skills and learning how to put on makeup for the first time and learning how to walk in heels and do all the things that were a part of me growing up and becoming a woman," Allie recalls. "She was like, we get it, you're a jock, but you've got to learn this side too."
Of course, LaForce won, then became the first Miss Teen Ohio to win the Miss Teen USA competition.
If Allie LaForce's name rings a bell, it's because she is one of CBS' top sideline reporters and worked the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament on a crew with Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel. She will be on sidelines for Reese's College All-Star Game, which will be played Friday and broadcast at 1 p.m. ET Saturday via tape delay. (Follow the game live with the hashtag #MarchMood.)
Her childhood dream was to play college basketball, not competing in pageants, but winning Miss Teen USA helped LaForce reach her goal.
"I was told when I won, 'Make sure you tell them what you really want' because that's what they're there for," LaForce said. "Their job is to help you fulfill your dream. So I told them. They provide you with a personal trainer, so they provided me with a basketball-specific trainer. My trainer, Sid, and I did every workout on a basketball court."
She says some people in the pageant world thought she was crazy for focusing on college basketball. But she was so serious about it that she wouldn't travel for pageant work during the basketball season. Her itinerary included about 25 states and two countries in one year, but she would not make any trips if it meant missing a Vermilion High School game. LaForce earned Team MVP honors during her junior year, despite the distractions.
Outside of basketball season, LaForce alternated week-and-a-half periods living in Vermilion (about 40 minutes west of Cleveland) and traveling the world. During her time at home, she stayed after school for tutoring sessions with her teachers.
"I just tried to balance both [basketball and Miss Teen USA] and it was really difficult, but the thing is, the one year after the pageant's done, you're gone and there's another winner and you're living a normal life again," LaForce says. "It was just kind of a surreal experience where a year out of my life was completely different, but there's so many benefits that translate to what I do now.
"Needless to say when I went back to high school and went to prom, it wasn't as exciting as it is for most people who go to prom. During my year [as Miss Teen USA], I was walking red carpets and going to random events like Bette Midler's 60th birthday party and I was at the Shrivers' marriage because I did a big charity bike ride from Boston to Hyannis Port and we're cooking out at the Shriver mansion and stuff like that. You go back to high school and reality hits that was not real life, but it was fun while it lasted."
LaForce earned first-team all-district honors as a senior at Vermilion. She enrolled at Ohio University, where she walked on the Bobcats basketball team as a 5-8 guard. But for LaForce, the best part was her anonymity.
"They didn't!" she exclaims when asked if college classmates recognized her. "That's what made me fall in love with that school. Because I was playing basketball, I lived in sweatpants. I wore whatever matching sweatsuit the team gave us to class every day. I never wore makeup. It would take a very skilled human being to be able to recognize me from my pageant self. I was a lot heavier. I wasn't like fat. I probably had 25 more pounds of muscle on me from being a college athlete."
LaForce left the team after her sophomore season and focused on her broadcast journalism degree. She landed jobs at Sportstime Ohio (Fox Sports) and WJW TV in Cleveland. She was hired by CBS Sports at 23, and by 25, in 2014, she was on sidelines for her first NCAA tournament. She is 27 now, which produces a unique dynamic with the 75-year-old Lundquist. Through their work together on SEC football and basketball broadcasts, they've become "great friends" inside and outside of work.
"I learned to really love his wife, Nancy, and him," she says. "We certainly text message and FaceTime when we're not in-season to keep in touch. Not only does he give me guidance and advice, but he trusts me and considers me a professional, which is all I can ask for."
LaForce says she met Donald Trump, who owned the Miss Teen USA pageant along with Miss USA or Miss Universe from 1996-2015, multiple times walked a few red carpets with him during her reign. But her best Trump story came early in her broadcast career.
"I remember when I covered the Patriots in a postseason game maybe three years ago, he wrote me a letter saying keep up the great work, we're rooting for you, you're doing a great job," LaForce says. "That made me really excited because I wasn't sure he remembered me or not because there's three new girls every year."
As Miss Teen USA, LaForce was given a one-year contract with Trump Modeling Management. She never took any initiatives with that opportunity, saying it was "just something really that is on the package description when you win."
Buddy Hield is NBA-media ready
For this year's NCAA tournament, LaForce covered the first two rounds in Brooklyn and the West Regional in Anaheim. The athlete that impressed her the most? Buddy Hield of Oklahoma.
"I'm following this story because here's a guy who has everything going for him and has everyone wanting a piece of his life and all he wants to do is share it with fans," LaForce says. "You don't see that anymore. You think of your biggest stars in professional and college sports and you're lucky to just get a piece of them. If you walk up to Buddy, and I don't care who you are, and you ask him for an autograph or a picture, he will sit there and ask you how are you, where are you from, what do you love about basketball? He'll talk your ear off and wants to get to know you. He's the most unselfish athlete.
"I was really inspired by the way I saw him interact with the fans and the way he talked to us as the media. I had a few questions I asked him and instead of just answering and moving on to the next interview, he asked me, 'That's all? Like, you don't want to talk longer. You don't want to know more.'"
LaForce is married to an MLB veteran
LaForce jokes that she spent most of her time in Cleveland TV covering Browns coaching changes. But Cleveland is where she met her husband, then-Indians relief pitcher, Joe Smith.
"Don't even try to talk to me," she remembers thinking. "You're a professional athlete. That can't happen. That's not going to happen. That won't happen because that's what I'm about. I'm just getting in the business. And that's a no-no. Then as I got to know him more, I just fell in love with him and to think I shouldn't be with someone I'm meant to be with because of profession is kind of silly."
Smith is now entering his third year with the Angels, but LaForce says her husband could have played basketball.
"I like to play him in shooting games because I have a chance," she says. "We play Pop-A-Shot. I can kick his butt in Pop-A-Shot."
The couple runs Help Cure HD, a foundation devoted to finding Huntington's Disease, a genetic neurodegenerative disorder that has afflicted Smith's grandmother and mother.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.