The following won Pennsylvania titles in either America's Junior Miss or Distinguished Young…
Perhaps there should be a new sign erected along the highways leading into the area — “Lawrence County, Home of Pennsylvania Distinguished Young Women.”
The fact that the organization's state competition was held for the second year in a row Saturday at the Scottish Rite Cathedral would seem to be reason enough.
However, Neshannock High senior Aaliyah Smith also earned the title at that event, extending a recent string of success for local teens who qualified for state competition by virtue of wins at the county level.
Aaliyah’s state title is the county’s second straight; the third in the last four years; and the fourth in the last seven. Overall, Lawrence County has six state winners, including two that won in 1980 and 2009 when the scholarship competition was known as Junior Miss.
“Lawrence County can be proud of all these young women,” said Rosanne Palladino, chairperson for the local Distinguished Young Woman event, which took place in May. “It is a wonderful experience for them, and it was a wonderful experience for Aaliyah. These young women have done Lawrence County proud.”
In addition to taking first place at Saturday’s state event — an accomplishment that qualifies her for national competition next summer — Aaliyah received the night’s Fitness and Scholarship awards. She had taken Scholarship and Talent honors at the local level.
“It was an incredible feeling,” the daughter of JeVarn O’Neal and Alissa Smith-Sumner said. “Being at the state level, I didn’t know any of the girls going into it, so that was exciting. It’s just exciting to know that I have new friends from this experience.”
While her competitors arrived from other counties around Pennsylvania, Aaliyah was able to remain in her hometown. Still, she doesn’t feel that that gave her any type of edge.
“I don’t know that I’d say it’s advantage, but it is nice that most of my friends and family were able to come to the event,” she said. “But it was still time away from my actual home when I was in the Cathedral most of the time. So it was still different for me.”
Aaliyah, who plans to attend the University of Miami to major in pharmaceutical chemistry, was leaving for a vacation this week, a welcome respite from the months of preparation she’s tackled for both the local and state Distinguished Young Women events. Despite the work that entailed, she’s cherishing the memory of it all.
“It’s just been an incredible experience,” she said, “from walking in the very first day of the local practice, not knowing some of those girls even though we all live so close, and building such incredible relationships with them over that month and a half that we practiced, to staying close with them after we finished with our program.
“And even meeting these girls just a few days ago for state — we stayed in houses together with people we didn’t really know so we really just created a bond that is incredible for three days that will stick with us for a while.”