RHS senior competes at state DYW competition
Russellville High School senior Stella Hill competed against 42 others in the state level Distinguished Young Women competition in Montgomery last month.
While there for the week of events, she stayed with a host family and observed the program-required condition of not using her phone for a week, communicating with family only by reading but not responding to email.
Contestants practiced at length each day, as well as participated in other activities, including eating with the Kiwanis Club, eating with the Cattlemen’s Association and visiting their museum and having lunch at the Governor’s Mansion with Alabama governor Kay Ivey.
“I made some great friends from all over Alabama,” Hill said. “I was excited to go to the state competition because I’d heard from former Franklin County Distinguished Young Women that it’s a lot of fun, and it was.”
Hill earned the title at the 2023 Northwest Alabama DYW competition held July 27 at Norton Auditorium on the campus of the University of North Alabama. Ten young women from Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale counties competed in scholastics, interview, fitness, talent and self-expression. One participant from each county was chosen to represent her county at the state program. During that event, Hill also won the scholastics, talent and self-expression categories.
Also representing RHS in the July 27 program, Chloe Sheffield placed as first alternate, and Danica Graham placed as second alternate, also winning the fitness category. Representing Phil Campbell High School, Aaliyah Prince won the Be Your Best Self essay contest.
At the state competition, Hill participated in a ten-minute interview, competed in group and individual fitness routines and responded to a self-expression question for which she had 24 hours to prepare. She also performed her talent, a lyrical dance number to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me.”
While she didn’t win awards at the state level, Hill recounts her participation fondly. “It’s more about the experience, and I’m really glad I went and got to meet a lot of people, and that was the best part for me, not the competition itself.”
Hill said the experience helped her feel more confidence while also letting her get to meet “a lot of interesting people and make friends with people I probably never would have met otherwise.”
Being selected Franklin County’s Distinguished Young Woman last year also meant winning scholarships for college at UNA
Hill said she was “surprised and excited” when she won the honor “because there were a lot of amazing girls competing in it,” adding she enjoyed the opportunity to “perform and showcase” her talents in front of an audience.
She said she hopes other young women considering taking part in the program will decide to see where it leads them.
“Distinguished Young Women provides great opportunities that you may never get a chance to take part in again,” Hill explained, “and it’s good to put yourself out there because, even though it’s a lot of hard work, it pays off in the end.”
Hill said being part of the Distinguished Young Women program has also been special for her because of her family connections to it.
Hill’s sister, Sophie Hill Hardy, participated in the 2021 Northwest Alabama DYW competition to try for the title of Distinguished Young Woman of Franklin County. She came in as first alternate and placed first in self-expression. Their mother, Tara Hill, was a program participant when it was still known as the Junior Miss pageant.
“I’m just extremely proud,” said Tara Hill.
Hardy said one of the many benefits of the program is boosting confidence and encouraging keeping up more with current events, as that’s something they get asked about as part of the program.
“The program teaches young women so much,” Hardy said. “It helped prepare me before I entered the ‘real world’ and showed me what it’s like to make new connections and just to be with new people and learn how to put myself out there. I’m really proud of Stella, and I think this was a great way to help prepare her before college and going off on her own.”
Stella Hill is the daughter of Tara and Eric Hill, of Russellville. At RHS, Hill is currently the president of Future Health Professionals, the president of the Family Career and Community Leaders of America and a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, as well as a member of Christian Students United. She is also a varsity cheerleader. Outside of school, she dances with Addie’s Flip Tip and Tap studio in Russellville.
After graduation, Hill said she plans to attend the University of North Alabama, try out for the dance team and major in nursing.
“Stella Hill is a wonderful Distinguished Young Woman for Franklin County,” explained Susan Hargett, one of the longtime coordinators of the DYW program for Northwest Alabama. “She is talented, smart, fit and beautiful. Stella is helping us prepare and get contestants for the program for senior girls graduating in 2025.”
ABOUT DISTINGUISHED YOUNG WOMEN
Distinguished Young Women of Alabama is part of a national scholarship program that promotes and rewards scholastics, leadership and talent in young women and allows them the opportunity to earn scholarships for higher education, personally develop through the DYW life skills workshops and make new friends from around the state. The stated mission is “to empower young women to develop their full, individual potential by providing scholarships, personal development opportunities and a positive peer network.”
DYW has its roots in the Junior Miss program, which program history states began as Azalearama, a local competition based in Mobile. After girls from other states began signing up, sponsors opened it to high school girls from every state and renamed it the Junior Miss Pageant in 1957, amending it to America’s Junior Miss in 1959.
Every state in the country had a Junior Miss program by the early 1960s, and the state winners traveled to Mobile for the national competition. For a short-lived period in the ‘80s with the name America’s Young Woman of the Year, it continued as Junior Miss until 2010. That’s when it was rebranded as Distinguished Young Women, reframing it as a scholarship program instead of a pageant.
The next local program will be held Aug. 17 at Norton Auditorium, on the grounds of the University of North Alabama. To register, and for additional information, visit distinguishedyw.org. For more information on scholarship opportunities for young women in this area, contact Susan Hargett at 256-710-9239 or Katernia Cole Coffey at 256-332-8880.