Cleveland to welcome 26 DYW participants

Posted 7/15/17

Twenty-six girls from across the state are arriving in Cleveland today to prepare for the 2018 Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee scholarship competition.

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Cleveland to welcome 26 DYW participants


Twenty-six girls from across the state are arriving in Cleveland today to prepare for the 2018 Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee scholarship competition.

This is the state competition’s eighth year in Cleveland, and this is the largest group of competitors the city will have seen.

“We have been branching out more statewide, and every area of Tennessee is well-represented,” said Traci Fant, competition co-chair. “This is our largest and our most diverse group ever.” 

Distinguished Young Women, which until 2010 was called Junior Miss, is a scholarship competition which evaluates each girl in several categories. These are: Scholastics (25 percent), Interview (25 percent), Talent (20 percent), Fitness (15 percent) and Self-Expression (15 percent).

Girls can compete in local Distinguished Young Women competitions in their cities and towns during their junior year of high school. The winners of those local competitions then move on to the state competition. The winner of this year’s state competition will be able to vie for the title of Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2018.

The competition takes place this Friday and Saturday in the Dixon Center at Lee University. Friday’s Preliminary and Saturday’s Final will each start at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m.

This afternoon, program participants will converge upon Cleveland State Community College, where they will kick things off with a bunch of introductions. Among those they will meet are members of the competition’s board of directors, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Cleveland State President Dr. Bill Seymour.

This event is also when they will meet the host families, local families who have volunteered to let the girls stay in their homes this week. All of the contestants, even current Cleveland Distinguished Young Woman Jasmine Ngo, will prepare for the competition while staying with host families.

Fant said this year’s record number of competitors meant the program needed more host families than ever. Including Fant and her husband, Charles, there are 14 host families this year. There were just eight last year.

“We have one of the best groups of host families,” Fant said. “They care about the girls and actually take them in as their own daughters.” 

After they get settled into the homes of their host families, they will ready themselves for a week chock full of rehearsals and other activities.

Monday, they will meet at Arnold Memorial Elementary School for a morning of rehearsals. After a break for lunch and more rehearsal time, they will visit Cleveland State again for a “Life Skills Workshop.” 

In recent years, leaders of the state competition have begun organizing workshops to help the girls learn valuable skills. On Monday, Seymour will speak to the girls about how to succeed in interviews, whether they be for jobs or college scholarships.

The competitors will cap off their first full day in Cleveland with a pool party at the home of one of the host families.

On Tuesday, the girls will have a day full of rehearsals at the elementary school, followed by a special visit with residents of Garden Plaza of Cleveland in the evening.

Fant said the girls will be visiting with residents of the assisted living facility, performing their talents and hosting an ice cream social.

Wednesday will see the girls taking part in more rehearsals, but at a new location. That is when they move to Lee University’s Dixon Center venue.

The day will also include a special welcome from Lee officials and another “Life Skills Workshop.”

Latricia Milburn, an anchor with Chattanooga’s NewsChannel 9, will teach the girls about public speaking. Fant said Milburn was the 2000 Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee and remains a supporter of the program.

That night, the girls will have a free night to enjoy with their host families.

On Thursday, there will be even more rehearsals, along with interviews with the competition’s judges.

After some initial introductions, each girl will have a private interview with the panel of judges. During this, girls will answer a variety of questions which can include everything from their plans after high school to their views on current world events.

Thursday is expected to end on a sweet note, as the girls are being treated to an ice cream social at Baskin-Robbins.

Friday and Saturday will each include more chances for the girls to rehearse group dance and fitness routines, along with the individuals talents they will perform for audiences at the Dixon Center. In the evenings, they will take part in the two-night competition.

This year’s theme is “Be Uniquely You,” which Fant said emphasizes the importance of celebrating individuality. Both nights of competition will feature music and performances which are related to this theme.

Among those performing for the event will be 2017 Tennessee Distinguished Young Woman Halla Maynard. She will be on hand to support the competitors throughout the week and will help present the 2018 winner.

Audiences will watch the Talent, Fitness and Self-Expression categories onstage Friday and Saturday, with the Interview and Scholastics category winners having been decided beforehand.

“Everybody is welcome to come out and support our girls,” Fant said. “The talent these girls represent is superb. I think it’s going to be a good show.” 

Tickets are $30 for one night or $55 for both. They can be purchased online at or at the door. Proceeds from the ticket sales help support the scholarship program.

This year, competitors will be vying for more than $11,000 in college scholarships, though the program’s leaders say there is a possibility of some of the girls being surprised with additional scholarships Saturday night.

Fant said there is a reason the state program is returning to Cleveland for the eighth year — community support.

The program enjoys the support of host families which provide the girls with places to stay and local food establishments which provide them with meals and refreshments. This year, these include Baskin-Robbins, Chick-Fil-A and Olive Garden.

The program has also enjoyed good support from community partners like the local schools and colleges providing space for activities and the competition. This is in addition to other local supporters of the program, including those who turn out to watch the competition.

Organizers say past participants of the state competition have also reported the people of Cleveland have in general been very kind to them.

“It means a lot for us to have all these sponsors and all these people helping us welcome the girls,” Fant said. “We want to show them that Cleveland cares and wants to support them, and so far Cleveland has been very welcoming.”  


email: Christy.armstrong@cleveland


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