Contestants rehearse for the upcoming Distinguished Young Women of York County program Monday at Central York High School. Thirty-one high school juniors
Contestants rehearse for the upcoming Distinguished Young Women of York County program Monday at Central York High School. Thirty-one high school juniors are taking part in the 49th annual event, which will take place Saturday at Central York. (John A. Pavoncello — jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

The finalists in this year's Distinguished Young Women of York County competition have many talents, from playing the flute to Irish dancing to computer engineering.

But there are elements of the 49th annual program that can be terrifying: like speaking in front of 1,200 people.

"A lot of times it involves some things that are maybe out of the box for them," said Lyn Bergdoll, the program's chairwoman. "But we rehearse, and they find that they can do it. To do something you've never done before is very empowering."

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, the finalists will take their talents to the stage at Central York High School, which is always full for the occasion, she said.

ONLINE PORTRAIT OF EACH CONTESTANT - Angel Harrison, 16,  from Dallastown High School, right, joins fellow contestants as they rehearse for the upcoming
ONLINE PORTRAIT OF EACH CONTESTANT - Angel Harrison, 16, from Dallastown High School, right, joins fellow contestants as they rehearse for the upcoming Distinguished Young Women of York County program Monday at Central York High School. Thirty-one young ladies are taking part in the 49th annual event, which will take place Saturday at Central York. John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

They will compete for more than $40,000 in scholarship and award money — far more money than other local and state programs offer, Bergdoll said.

The program: Distinguished Young Women, known as Junior Miss until three years ago, is a national and local competition that recognizes high school juniors for their academic accomplishments, leadership and community service, Bergdoll said.

The York County program usually brings about 28 finalists to the stage. This year, 31 girls made the cut out of an applicant pool about twice as big, she said.

"It's an exceptional group. It's a very talented group; the level of the talents is very, very high," Bergdoll said.

During the competition, a panel of judges interviews the girls and reviews their academic records, accounting for 45 percent of the contestants' scores.

The young women then compete on stage in fitness, talent and self-expression categories, which comprise 55 percent of their overall scores. The winner will go on to compete in Distinguished Young Women's Pennsylvania competition in August.

Preparing for life: These are the students who are at the head of their class and busy with all kinds of extracurricular activities, Bergdoll said.

"People will be really impressed when they see them perform," she said.

They've been rehearsing for the past six weeks, practicing their routines and going through mock interviews, she said.

The experience helps build confidence and prepare students for their journeys through college and beyond, Bergdoll said.

"Our goal is to give all the gals in our program a life-changing experience," Bergdoll said.

Last year, baton twirler Caitlin Reeser won the York County competition. The Central York High School senior went on to place as first runner-up in the Pennsylvania competition.

In the two years prior, York had two winners in state competition, Bergdoll said.

"Our girls always do extremely well at states," she said. "When we have this caliber at the local level, you know you're going to have a really strong representative."

But the program's goal is more than that, Bergdoll said.

"Our goal is not to get a state winner," she said. "Our goal is to give these 31 girls the best possible experience we can."

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.