By Matthew Saari

Seven distinguished young women from Whitehall will take the stage this Saturday to showcase their talents, smarts, dedication and commitment in front of an adoring crowd.
This year’s Distinguished Young Women competition consists of seven girls, all juniors at Whitehall High School, who not only excel in and out of the classroom but have been practicing multiple times a week in preparation for the event.
The friendly contest is deeply ingrained in the history of Whitehall – this year marks the 55th year of competition. And each year it proves to be a crowd-pleaser with both community members and businesses.
“It’s always been a huge success and supported by the community,” said Cheryl Putorti, chief organizer of the event. “The girls look forward to it every year…it’s endured the test of time. It’s not a beauty pageant; it’s never had that feel about it. It’s a scholarship program; we’re looking for good, all-around girls.”
Hannah Bascue, Jessica Bruce, Chloe Harris, Jensen Keough, Morgan O’Dell, Kaylyn Rehm and Amanda VanGuilder are the young ladies who will compete in a number of categories including scholastics, talent, fitness, interview and self-expression.
A panel of judges will appraise each girl in each category and at the end of the night one will be named the 2017 Distinguished Young Woman.
As Putorti said, the contest is much more than a beauty pageant. For instance, during the interview segment the ladies learn what it’s like sitting through and conducting themselves during a 10-minute interview, an essential ability once they join the work force but a situation they may not have experienced at this point in their lives.
The scholastics portion of the contest is performed entirely off stage. Three judges will review each contestant’s high school transcripts. Some of the variables the judges look at are grades, the courses in which each contestant is enrolled and whether the contestants have taken the A.C.T.’s or S.A.T.’s to date.
Based upon these variables, contestants are assessed a score from 1 to 10. Scholastics is worth 25 percent of the overall score.
In the talent portion, each contestant performs a small skit on stage for 90 seconds. A panel of five judges, different from the scholastic judges, reviews the skit based upon the girls’ costumes, originality and execution. This year six ladies will be performing dance numbers and one will be playing the piano, Putorti said. Talent is worth another 25 percent.
The fitness category tests the coordination, stamina, and agility of each contestant.
This year the ladies will be performing a high-energy choreographed routine. Directing the routine is a returning DYW contestant, Taryn Tracy. Fitness is worth 15 percent.
Like scholastics, the interview portion is conducted behind the scenes. The five judges sit each girl down for 10 minutes. Judges are looking for the contestant’s ability to clearly articulate themselves, their moral values and how they conduct themselves throughout the process. Interview is worth 20 percent.
Lastly, the self-expression portion gauges each young woman’s adaptability, composure and clarity when composing an answer to a question posed on-stage. Self-expression is worth 15 percent.
Almost half of the overall score is assessed behind the scenes by judges, a fact that some spectators may not realize. A contestant may have the charisma to shine on stage but if her academics are lacking or she isn’t able to ace the interview, it severely lessens her ability to claim the win.
“Forty-five percent of the total score is done before the audience sees any part of it,” said Putorti.
The judges change each year and are pulled from a variety of fields including public relations, dance and teachers. All of the judges hail from out of town and do not know the contestants personally, thus eliminating any potential favoritism. Some may even be former Distinguished Young Women themselves.
“We try to get a good variety of people,” Putorti said.
Last year’s Distinguished Young Woman, Alexa Brooks, will be on hand to deliver a presentation on what she’s been doing since the competition to prepare for the national contest in Mobile, Alabama. Brooks will also provide a song performance which she will be taking to the nationals.
This year’s Distinguished Young Women contest will be held in the high school auditorium on Saturday at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

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