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Rachel Connell named the Distinguished Young Woman

  • Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Emily Marie Dyer sends a kiss to the crowd Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Emily Marie Dyer sends a kiss to the crowd Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestants hold hands in anticipation Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestants hold hands in anticipation Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Rachel Sarah Connell is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Rachel Sarah Connell is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Rachel Sarah Connel is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Rachel Sarah Connel is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Winner Rachel Sara Connel (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Winner Rachel Sara Connel (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Emily Marie Dyer sends a kiss to the crowd Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestants hold hands in anticipation Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Rachel Sarah Connell is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Women competition and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Winner Rachel Sara Connell (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Rachel Sarah Connel is announced as the 2013 winner of the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards and mobbed by her fellow competitors at the Academy of Music in Northampton Sunday evening.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Kayla Rice performs a contemporary dance routine Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Winner Rachel Sara Connel (R) poses for a picture with runner-up Abigail Edgin (L) after the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Contestant Angela Delaney leads the group during the opening medley of Broadway show tunes Sunday evening during the Greater Easthampton Distinguished Young Woman awards at the Academy of Music in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

A grinning and teary Connell, who plans to study nursing at Elms College in Chicopee next year, received hugs and congratulations from the three runners-up in the 47th annual scholarship competition, formerly known as Junior Miss.

When she emerged from backstage at the Academy of Music, Connell said she never imagined she would be the one wearing the bronze Distinguished Young Woman medal around her neck. “I never took a dance class in my life, so that made it more challenging and I had to work extra hard,” she said.

The 3½-hour show featured group dance numbers, many of them from famous musicals to reflect this year’s theme, “On Broadway.”

“The girls were great. They would invite me over to their houses to help me,” Connell said. “They’re the reason I’m here.” Easthampton’s Distinguished Young Women program awarded just over $16,000 in scholarships to this year’s contestants. The contest is open to high school senior girls who live in Easthampton or attend Hampshire Regional High School. This year, 15 girls were judged in the categories of scholastics, interview, talent, fitness and self-expression.

The event kicked off with 2012 Distinguished Young Woman Molly Bialecki introducing a medley of Broadway dance numbers. Five girls in leotards danced to a song from “A Chorus Line,” another five slinked cat-like across the stage, dressed as felines, to a song from “Cats,” and another quintet twirled and smiled in poodle skirts to a “Little Shop of Horrors” tune.

Scholastics and the 10-minute interview were judged previously. For self-expression, the contestants were judged on poise, presence and public speaking, and fitness was based on a dance routine that featured push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises.

The talent portion of the competition featured a variety of skills, from singing and dancing to playing the piano or violin. Dressed in a mermaid-esque dress and a bright red wig, Connell had the audience applauding and laughing after her goofy performance of “Part of Your World” from the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid.”

Her mother, Donna Connell, said the number had special meaning for their family; her daughter had performed the same song at a talent show in the fifth grade, accompanied on the piano by her brother Ryan, then in eighth grade.

Donna and James Connell, of 2 Geryk Court in Easthampton, were almost speechless after hearing that their daughter had won the title, $4,085 in scholarship money and the chance to compete at the state level.

“We thought it was a scholarship opportunity, so she might as well go for it,” Donna Connell said. “We didn’t know she’d make it so far. I’m shaking like a leaf.”

In addition to the title, Rachel Connell also won the Arline Hambley Community Service Award, after she spent her summer volunteering in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and the Spirit Award. For that award, the contestants vote for the girl who is the most enthusiastic, positive and compassionate throughout the two months of practice leading up to the show.

Abigail Edgin of Easthampton High School was the first runner-up, Cassandra Golob of Holyoke Catholic High School was the second runner-up, and Kelsey Bouthilette of Hampshire Regional High School was third runner-up.

Four winners were also named for each of the five categories. In the self-expression category, they were Paige Czarnik, Angelena Delaney, Connell and Bouthilette.

For fitness, the winners were Kayla Rice, Connell, Czarnik and Bouthilette.

The talent competition winners were Czarnik, who tap-danced; Golob, who played the violin; Salvetti, who stepped a traditional Irish dance; and Bouthilette, who performed a jazz dance.

The girls with the top scholastic scores were Bayleigh Murphy, Abigail Edgin, Samantha Brand and Golob.

The winners of the interview category were Olivia Griswold, Brand, Connell and Edgin.

In her last appearance on stage as the reigning Distinguished Young Woman, Bialecki told the 2013 candidates about her experience representing the greater Easthampton area.

“This is truly an experience that you will take with you for the rest of your life, no matter who wins,” she said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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