A week of dance rehearsals, volunteer activities, interviews, talent practices, new friends and competition begins today with the arrival of 24 Tennessee ladies in the 2015 Distinguished Young Women scholarship program.
State co-chair and former Distinguished Young Woman Traci Fant said this year’s group is the largest yet at the state level.
The participants start off today on the same level before practices begin Monday. Rehearsals will continue from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. through Wednesday. Abbreviated rehearsals will occur before and after lunch on Thursday prior to the start of the two-night competition held Friday and Saturday at Lee University’s Dixon Center.
Tennessee’s Distinguished Young Woman will not be announced until the end of Saturday night’s competition.
“My thought process, and a lot of the committee members [who were in the program], is if you are in a program, you want to be able to know throughout Saturday evening that you could possibly be named the representative,” Fant said. “If you cut it off [Friday by listing the top 10], that chance is gone.”
A big push this year is to attract more than the friends and families of the contestants.
Fant said the committee is interested in seeing more Cleveland and Bradley County residents in the center’s seats. Tickets will go on sale Monday at Perry’s Petals on Keith Street.
This will be the fifth year in a row the DYW program has held its program in Cleveland. Contestants will arrive from all across the state — Memphis, the Middle Tennessee area, Bristol and the Nashville/Tullahoma area included. Fant said the committee would like to further establish the program in Cleveland.
She said the city has shown the program a lot of support in the past.
“I can’t say thank you enough. I think that is huge. Having the support here is very important to us,” Fant said. “We just want to make sure the Cleveland community knows how much we appreciate them.”
The program utilized local vendors to meet the various needs, like designing and printing the program booklets. Two local community projects will allow the girls to give back to Cleveland.
Tuesday night will find the participants at Garden Plaza Retirement Community. Residents will have the opportunity to see the young ladies’ competition talents firsthand during an ice cream social. No-sew blankets tied by the contestants will also be handed over to the retirement community.
Local residents will have an opportunity to meet the young ladies Thursday afternoon when they pass out water bottles on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway.
The volunteer activities in hand with tonight’s visit to Red Clay State Park allow the participants an opportunity to learn more about Cleveland.
Fant said this is an especially important part of the week for her.
“I went to school in Nashville. When I would tell people where I was from, they would say, ‘Oh, Cleveland, Ohio.’ People who even live in Tennessee, and those who live in other places, have no clue Cleveland is here,” Fant said. “We have had girls tell us before that they would pass through Cleveland all the time, ‘We didn’t know anything about Cleveland until we came to this program.’”
Continued Fant, “Cleveland does have rich history, and we are not Cleveland, Ohio. We are a distinct city. I think it is important for the young ladies to know it is here and that we have a vital part in Tennessee’s history.”
It would seem the state DYW scholarship program designed to develop high school female students’ “full, individual potential” through a “fun, transformative” week might soon become a part of Cleveland’s history.
Fant participated in the program while still a high school student in 1991. She has continued to be involved over the years due to her experience as the local and state winner.
“I know a lot of the stuff I have gone through in life from college to going to law school and then working, I learned how to deal with those stressors by being in this program,” she said. “You will hear that from a lot of people. It gives so much more than just a scholarship.”
The week’s activities will culminate on Friday and Saturday with the evening competitions. Both will be co-emceed by Katie Brock, the 2011 DYW national winner, and Chandler Lawson, Tennessee’s 2008 Junior Miss and the 2012 Miss Tennessee. Both are vocalists and have agreed to perform Friday and Saturday. The 2014 DYW national winner will offer a tap dance performance during one of the shows.
Perry’s Petals will sell double-night tickets for $55 and single-night tickets for $30. The finals will begin at 7 p.m. on both nights. The program will be dedicated in memory of volunteers James Dunn and Terry Parks. The theme of the competition will be Motown hits with a modern twist.