With the music and clapping taking place inside Arnold Memorial School’s gymnasium Tuesday, folks passing by might have thought a pep rally was underway. And in a way, it was.
With the music and clapping taking place inside Arnold Memorial School’s gymnasium Tuesday, folks passing by might have thought a pep rally was underway.
And in a way, it was.
Instead of a sports team drawing cheers, it was participants in the 2020 Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee program, cheering each other on as they rehearsed their fitness routine.
Nineteen contestants are participating in the statewide program in Cleveland this weekend. They arrived Sunday and have a full schedule of activities leading up to competition Friday and Saturday nights.
The contestants are divided into three groups and on Tuesday each group had the opportunity to practice its fitness routine and receive individual direction from choreographer Chelsea Milligan.
“They’re doing really great,” Milligan said during a break.
Milligan added the young women had the opportunity to learn their fitness routine before coming to Cleveland, so rehearsals were moving swiftly. Also, as one group rehearses the other two groups cheer them on.
“They’re supporting each other, encouraging each other,” Milligan said, adding she encourages the participants by telling them “how awesome they are!”
“They are already winners … this is just an opportunity to showcase how amazing they are,” she added of the program.
As the DYW contestants were taking a break from their fitness routine rehearsal, a few were asked about their experience so far.
Mary Humphrey, Distinguished Young Woman of Warren County, said rehearsing the fitness routine has been the hardest part. Even though the participants could practice on their own before coming to Cleveland, Humphrey said it is a challenge to add group choreography.
“Although it’s been difficult, it’s not been unbearable,” she said.
Humphrey, who lives about two hours away from Cleveland, said she is enjoying her experience.
“I’m loving it,” said Raven Hellena Guilford, Distinguished Young Woman of Cumberland Valley, of her time here so far.
Guilford said she has one older brother so it has been an interesting experience sharing housing with three girls while staying with her host family here.
“We have so much fun,” she said, adding even fitness routine rehearsals are fun because she appreciates being cheered on by her fellow DYW contestants “to finish it out strong.”
Sophia Cardia, Distinguished Young Woman of Ooltewah, is facing an extra challenge during the week because she is wearing a protective boot, the result of a swimming injury. However, she is not letting that get her down.
“I’ve been wearing it for about a month,” Cardia said, adding she is able to switch to a stiff brace for the program this weekend.
Alexia Woodard, Distinguished Young Woman of Scenic City, said her experience this week has been “super fun.”
“I’m enjoying it,” she said, adding she has visited Cleveland before, from her home in Chattanooga. “It’s 20 minutes from here.”
Woodard added she is expecting family from Alabama to attend this weekend’s program, and is looking forward to that.
Mackayla Wall, Distinguished Young Woman of East Brainerd, said she likes that the state program is taking place near her home. Admitting she was initially nervous about the fitness routine, that changed as they began to cheer each other on.
“We’re all so supportive of each other,” Wall said, adding she has felt “comfortable and safe asking for help.”
“It’s trying but we have accomplished a lot,” said Kennedy Brown, Distinguished Young Woman of Memphis, about the rehearsals so far.
Brown said she is enjoying her visit to Cleveland, where everyone has been so welcoming.
Presley Webb, Distinguished Young Woman of McMinn County, said she is enjoying her experience close to home.
“I’m just here to have fun,” Webb said, adding that has been a goal for the DYW participants.
Unlike most of the participants — some of whom drove hours to get to Cleveland — Webb lives 30 minutes away, in Athens.
“It’s nice to be so close to home,” she said, adding she is expecting a hometown crowd to make the trip.
Nikki Wilks, a member of the Tennessee DYW state committee, said the week has been busy so far, and the participants seem to be having fun.
“Today is their fullest day,” Wilks said, adding she is encouraged by how quickly the young women are polishing their fitness routines and they have started working on their opening performance.
With hundreds of calories being burned as the DYW contestants rehearsed their fitness routines, the young women didn’t hesitate when asked what flavors they look forward to sampling during Thursday’s “Let’s Celebrate With Ice Cream” event at Baskins Robbins.
Humberd said she plans to go with classic vanilla, while Guilford is keeping her options open: “I think I’m going to go and sample some,” she said.
Woodard and Brown cast their votes for cookies and cream, while Webb noted she plans to go for “something minty and chocolatey … or cookie dough.”
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