The 2012 scholarship program contestants are only a few hours away from taking the stage for tonight’s preliminaries at Dixon Center on the Lee University campus.
The opening night of competition gets under way at 7.
Finals will be held Saturday, also beginning at 7 p.m. and from the same Dixon Center stage.
Tickets can still be purchased in advance at Perry’s Petals and will be available at the door. Price is $30 for one night or $55 for both Friday and Saturday.
Even as the field of young contestants entered their final day before the start of actual competition, they still rehearsed. Representing hometowns from across Tennessee — from Memphis to Seymour, from Cleveland to Nashville and all points in between — the contestants spent four hours on stage this morning starting at 8 and another 3 1/2 hours this afternoon.
Rehearsals were set to break at 4:30 to allow time for dinner and a brief rest before hitting the stage for real at 7.
Saturday’s routine will include more rehearsals, but also a Local Chairperson Brunch at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and a group picture of all contestants in front of Dixon Center which will become the mingling hot spot for family, loved ones, friends and supporters over the next two days and nights.
As exciting — and tiring — a week as it has been for the contestants, it has been no less challenging for the program organizers, leaders and volunteers ... and the host families whose home-away-from-home nurturing of the high school youngsters has been a godsend, according to state program leaders responsible for the contestants’ day-to-day safety and well-being.
This week in Cleveland — the third consecutive year the city has hosted the Distinguished Young Women of Tennessee competition — has also played a role in DYW history.
It has been chaired by Traci and Charles Fant, the first African-Americans to lead the state program. When Tennessee’s Kayte Brock won the Distinguished Young Woman of America title in June, the Fants became the only African-American state chairpersons with a national scholarship winner.
Traci Fant is no stranger to the program for young women.
She served as Cleveland Junior Miss and Tennessee Junior Miss for 1991. She is the only African-American winner from Tennessee to compete in Mobile, Ala., on the national stage.
Two years ago what was formerly known as Junior Miss was renamed Distinguished Young Women to better reflect the core values of the program — scholarship, leadership and talent.
In an interview earlier this week with the Cleveland Daily Banner, Traci Fant said the competition taught her dedication and perseverance. She learned to balance the normal activities of a high school senior with the demands of preparing for local, state and national programs.
“It helped me organize much better,” she told the Banner’s Managing Editor David Davis. “I was always an organizer, but understanding how to prioritize was huge.”
In the DYW competition, talent accounts for 25 percent of the judges’ scoring; scholastic counts for 20 percent; the all-important interview is 25 percent; fitness is 15 percent; and self-expression is 15 percent.
Fant compared today’s DYW contestants to those in her competition years. The difference is incredible, she explained.
“I’m amazed at the talent these girls have,” she said in Sunday’s edition of the Banner, published on the same day all 23 contestants arrived for a welcoming reception at the Museum Center at Five Points. “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.”
Fant added, “Now we have girls who are concert pianists, amazing vocalists and the ballet [performer] I saw at the national program could have been a professional dancer. Their talents are just so amazing now.”
In the same interview, Charles Fant said the DYW program seeks out diversity and personal achievement.
“We want the girl who wins the program to not only be community service-oriented, but also a high achiever,” he said in the published interview Sunday. “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.”
This year’s full slate of contestants who will take the stage tonight include Bethany Rae Welch, Tullahoma High School; Baylee Michelle Norris, Soddy-Daisy High School; Sally Anna Harrison, Loudon High School; Kiona Daishon Reese, Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts; Jessica Michelle Crisp, Bearden High School; Krista Michelle Ellis, Marion County High School; Emily Michelle Myers, East Hamilton School; Kourtney Elizabeth Stanton, Station Camp High School; Kaitlyn Ashley Ray, Chattanooga Central High School; Victoria Lynn Williams, McMinn County High School; Natalie Ann Rayfield, Tullahoma High School; Emily Kate Fain, Seymour High School; Diana Proffitt, Maryville High School; Victoria Jade Jocsing, Signal Mountain High School; Ariana Sabre Kim, Cleveland High School; Khadeijdra “Kiki” Ann Carson, White Station High School; Casey Lauren Johnson, Maryville High School; Jessie Richards, East Robertson High School; Lindsey Anne Limerick, Signal Mountain High School; Madeline Elaine Johnson, Jefferson County High School; Nichole Estelle Patton, Beech Senior High School; Tarah Ann Hooks, Loudon High School; and Lexee Blair Hill, Rhea County High School.
Whoever earns the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Tennessee late Saturday night, it will be a well-deserved and hard-earned distinction; yet, it was a host family member who perhaps summed it up best in an interview in Wednesday’s edition of the Banner.
“All the girls are winners ... to be able to step outside their comfort zone,” said Beverly Dunn. She and her husband, James, are hosting two of this year’s contestants, as they have done for the past four years.
Her advice to this year’s young hopefuls, “Be the best you can be and honor God in what you do.”
And James offered another perspective — the impact the young ladies have had on him.
“I’m not much of a talker, but meeting the girls has helped a lot ... made me more outgoing,” the DYW surrogate dad offered in Wednesday’s interview with staff writer Bettie Marlow.
This year’s theme is “Celebrating the Distinguished Women of Tennessee.” The program highlights successful women who were born or raised in Tennessee. A few include Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Pat Summit, Annie Potts and Oprah Winfrey, among others.
Members of the DYW State Committee include Beverly Dunn, Tom Jenkins, Bob Edson, Larry McSpadden, Holly Williams Kesley, Donna Christian Lowe, Marty Lowe, Tara Pollard, Ramona Thompson, Heidi Longwith, Julie McCaslin, and Charles and Traci Dunn.
(Editor’s Note: Distinguished Young Women, formerly America’s Junior Miss Scholarship Program, is sponsored by the City of Mobile, Mobile County, Eastern Shore Toyota, Encore Rehabilitation, Mobile Gas-A-Sempra Company, Regions Bank, Alabama Power Foundation and Master Boat Builders. The 55th National Finals will take place in Mobile, Ala. on June 28-30, 2012. For more information about Distinguished Young Women, visit www.DistinguishedYW.org.)