The week begins at 3 p.m. today with a welcome reception for the class of 2012 and Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee and America for 2011, Katye Brock.
Brock, of Tullahoma, won the national scholarship title on June 25 in Mobile, Ala., in the 54th annual national competition.
The Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2011 received a cash scholarship of $40,000 and $4,000 for preliminary competition awards in the talent, fitness, self-expression and interview categories. Brock has earned a total of $51,200 in cash scholarships through her participation at local, state and national levels.
The teens go to work Monday at 8 a.m. for rehearsal at Arnold Elementary School. They break for lunch at noon and return for more practice from 1 to 5 p.m. The young women report in country and western attire to the home of Jonathan and Sarah Cantrell at 5:30 p.m. for a barn party.
The week culminates at the Dixon Center at Lee University with preliminaries on Friday and finals on Saturday. Both events begin at 7 p.m.
Traci Fant, Cleveland Junior Miss and Tennessee Junior Miss for 1991, is the only African-American winner from Tennessee to compete in Mobile on the national level.
She and her husband, Charles, are the first African-Americans to chair a state program and as of June 25, the only African-American state chairpersons with a national scholarship winner.
Traci said the competition taught her dedication and perseverance. She learned how to prioritize the normal activities of a high school senior while preparing for local, state and national programs.
“It helped me organize much better. I was always an organizer, but understanding how to prioritize was huge,” she said.
She was a cheerleader at Cleveland High School and knew she wanted to continue cheering at Vanderbilt University.
“Back then, all we had was the cheer group. There wasn’t the dance team. You didn’t have all these other activities a girl can do. Now they offer scholarships to cheerleaders. I’m glad they get scholarships because they put in so much time. They didn’t offer scholarships back in my day,” she said.
“We see our numbers lower because girls can do so many more things to get scholarship money.”
Traci submitted one student application to one university and was accepted. She continued her cheerleading career her freshman year, but it was time consuming and took her away from academics.
“It took up so much time. You had the workout plan in the gym with weights. It was a big deal in college,” she said. “We worked out every day, so it really has become a sport. It’s not just moving your arms and jumping around. They are true athletes.”
Many of the girls competing in the Distinguished Young Woman competition incorporate cheer dance and tumbling into their talent routines, which accounts for 25 percent of their final score. Scholastics counts for 20 percent of the overall score; the interview, 25 percent; fitness, 15 percent; and self-expression, 15 percent.
“I’m amazed at the talent these girls have. It just amazes me. I think back years ago. The girl who won the year I went will be one of the judges this year. She said if she was in it now, there is no way I would have won, the talent is so phenomenal,” Traci said.
“Now we have girls who are concert pianists, amazing vocalists and the ballet I saw at the national program could have been a professional dancer. Their talents are just so amazing now.”
The state co-chairs said they want girls who do a lot of other activities. They are the types of young women who make differences in the lives of others.
“We want them, but they still have to make a choice,” Traci said. “We want the girls who are accepted to go to Governor’s Schools, because that’s a big deal in Tennessee.”
The state program makes an exception for Governor’s School, but there are other choices the girls must make. This year, the competition lost four girls who could not commit to the program for seven days.
“When they come to Cleveland on Sunday, they are with us the entire week,” she said. “They cannot leave. They cannot go to camp. They stay with us the whole week and their parents pick them up on Saturday night. We usually get quite a few girls every year who want to be in the program, but can I leave on Tuesday because I have to go to my cheerleading camp or a 4-H event?”
Exceptions are made at other times during the year, but not this week because the 23 girls who made the choice to compete have committed to learning an entire production in three days for the preliminaries on Friday and finals on Saturday night.
But, that’s why the scholarship program seeks girls with stage experience because they can learn the production in a matter of days.
“In their mind, it’s just one day they need, but for us, it’s not just that one day out of that week. You have to be committed to something and whoever wins this program has to be committed to us for an entire year,” Traci said.
Charles said the program desires girls’ biographies with a wide range of activities and awards.
“We want the girl who wins the program to not only be community service oriented, but also a high achiever. We encourage these girls to do anything and everything they can possibly do. But if you’re the winner, you have obligations and you have to make that choice,” he said.
Traci remembers being 17 and wanting to do everything imaginable, hang out with friends, do all the fun stuff girls like to do.
As state program directors, she and Charles require the girls to make choices, they try to make it as easy as possible on the 23 girls who made the commitment to come to Cleveland.