Written and Photographed By Chris Hari
The Distinguished Young Women Program (formerly known as Junior Miss) is the nation’s oldest and largest program of its kind for junior and senior level high school girls. In McMinn County, it is sponsored by the Optimist Club. The representative that wins the local event goes on to compete in the state event and then on to the national competition.
Jackie Newman, Optimist member, has been chairperson of the event for eight years, having assisted for many years prior to that with long-time chair, Larry Rhodes. It is an intensely time-consuming endeavor. The girls practice from the end of February two days a week for 14 weeks and then every day the last week prior to the event, which is June 3rd this year. According to Jackie, it is well worth all the time she spends. “It is such a self-confidence builder. It is so rewarding to see even the most shy girls evolve into outgoing young ladies.” The girls learn life skills such as interviewing, public speaking and self-confidence building.
McMinn County has not had a state or national winner yet. Jackie Newman is convinced that this will be the year. “The participants this year are so outstanding that all 30 will compete. The girls are judged on a point system that includes scholastics, interview, talent, fitness and self-expression. The points are usually fairly widespread, making selection of participants an easy process. This year, the point spreads were so small that we couldn’t get down to just 20 and decided to have all of them participate.”
It takes an army of volunteers to successfully coordinate an event as large as the Distinguished Young Women competition. One of the volunteers, Lacey Starkey, has volunteered countless hours helping with both dance and talent routines during practice for the past 16 years. The 2001 winner of the prestigious award says, “It is my desire to motivate (the girls) and reassure them that they all have worth. I hope that one day, if one of my three girls decides to do the program, someone makes the sacrifice that I have and takes the time to enrich their lives.” Lacey has also performed with her father’s “Jr. Miss Band” for 15 years at the event, and they both love every minute of it!
The Distinguished Young Women event is scheduled for June 3rd at 6:00 p.m. at the Athens Middle School auditorium. The representative selected will receive a scholarship from the Optimist Club and the chance to compete at the state and national levels. All participants will receive a $1000 scholarship from Tennessee Wesleyan University. Tickets are available at the Middle School the week prior to the event or from any of the participants or Optimist Club members.