Neshoba juniors prepping for DYW program



Faith Shumaker said winning the 2022 Distinguished Young Woman title was a dream come true and she cannot wait to watch the five young women competing in this year’s competition take the stage next month.

The 2023 Distinguished Young Woman program is in the Philadelphia High School auditorium on March 5.

Each year, junior girls compete through a series of challenges involving physical fitness, talent, and interviewing skills. Girls who win the competition come out with cash prizes and college scholarships, along with a chance to represent their county and state.

Shumaker, a senior at Neshoba Central High School, said she grew up watching the Distinguished Young Woman programs and she couldn’t have been more excited to not only participate in it herself but also win the whole thing.

“I couldn’t believe it when they called my name, and I was so excited to be able to represent Neshoba County,” Shumaker said. “I’m very excited for the program this year. All five contestants have worked hard and will be their best selves in the competition. I’ve already seen so much growth in every single one of them, and I am proud of how far they’ve come. They are going to shine on stage.”

Morgan Jay, program chairman for Neshoba Distinguished Young Woman, said the five girls are participating in the program this year take part in five sections throughout the competition. 

She added that each participant also selected a “little sister,” a sophomore who helps backstage and performs some onstage.

The contestants include with little sisters in parenthesis: Posey Palmer (Sister Kate Cheatham); Ashton Luke (Kaleigh Swearingen); Lauren Gwen Posey (Mary Mars): Emmaly Watson and (Maggie Taylor); and Harley Hobby (Keely Parrett).

“The first portion is the scholastic information, which the girls have already submitted,” Jay said. “The second portion is the judges’ interview on the day of the program, where they will have a ten-minute personal interview with our selected judges.”

Jay said during the night of the program, the contestants compete on stage during the third portion, called the “self-expression” competition, and answer an on-stage question while wearing their signature dress. This is followed by the talent section where they have 90 seconds to show off their skills in a particular activity, such as vocal performances, painting, and playing the piano.

The final portion is the physical fitness section, where each contestant competes on stage for around eight minutes and then shows off a personal physical fitness routine.

Christy Barrett, production chair for the Neshoba Distinguished Young Woman Program, said all the contestants and their little sisters are from Neshoba Central High School this year.

“The girls are very well-prepared,” Barrett said. “They’ve worked hard behind the scenes getting ready for their interviews, talent shows, and fitness routines.”

Barrett said that out of the five contestants, the judges will choose an overall winner, first alternate and second alternate, and winners in the subcategories (spirit, fitness, talent, self-expression, and scholastic).

“The prizes for the overall winner are full scholarships to East Central Community College and a set amount for Mississippi State University, and cash awards for the first and second alternate winners,” Barrett said. 

“Each subcategory is also awarded a cash scholarship. I want to thank the community and small businesses for always sponsoring our program, and it’s thanks to them that we can award the scholarships.”

The 2023 Neshoba Distinguished Young Woman Program hits the Philadelphia High School Auditorium on Saturday, March 5. 

The program begins at 6 p.m. and general admission tickets are $15. Student tickets are $10 and program books will also be for sale at the door.

To find out more about the Distinguished Young Woman program, visit


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