“I think everybody could probably tell that I was shocked by my face because my mouth was just wide open. I had no idea my name was going to be called,” said Inaba, the 17-year-old daughter of Mike and Fujiko Inaba of Cartersville. “I really didn’t expect it. [By participating in this program], I liked how I was able to really come out of my box and experience new things. Before I didn’t really put makeup on and other girls helped me doll myself up and the fitness routine was something I really needed for myself. I really liked working on my interview skills and knowing what to wear to make great first impressions.
“… This program is not like a beauty pageant at all. Because I won, I learned that it’s all about the inner beauty instead of the outer beauty. The way that the program helps you is that it helps you be yourself the best way you can be.”
During the local competition, 13 young women vied for $4,900 in scholarships, showcasing their skills in the areas of academics, talent, fitness, interview and self-expression. Along with Inaba, the participants included Anna Martin, Cartersville High School, daughter of Tony and Michelle Martin; Bailey Bearden, Cartersville High School, daughter of Brian and Lisa Bearden; Hayden Johnson, North Cobb Christian School, daughter of Kay and Kyle Johnson; Maddie Jordan, Woodland High School, daughter of Cameron and Carla Jordan; Ellie Fields, Cartersville High School, daughter of Mike and Susan Fields; Ashley Edwards, Cartersville High School, daughter of Brian and Cheri Edwards; Katie Quinn, Cartersville High School, daughter of Jeff Quinn and Mary Ratteree; Darcy Guider, Woodland High School, daughter of Dan and Martha Guider; Madison Harris, Georgia Cyber Academy, daughter of Racey and Julie Harris; Holly Mitchell, Cartersville High School, daughter of William and Lori Mitchell; Alecia Price, Cartersville High School, daughter of Chuck and Kelley Price; and Lauren Gonzalez, Woodland High School, daughter of Raul Gonzalez and Tami Holmes.
“A couple of things [set her apart],” said Abbey Hufstetler, a former Bartow County winner who now is serving as the competition’s assistant director. “First of all, Sophia is exceptionally bright. I think that obviously shows through in her scholastics and in her interview and in her self-expression. But she also just has a warm, fun personality that’s shown in her talent piece, through the song that she sang, and also in her self-expression and probably in her interview that’s going to come across there too. So I think that her … great personality coupled with just how smart she is really gave her that advantage with the judges.
“I really think that she’s going to do an outstanding job [representing Bartow County]. She has proven that she is committed to working hard and committed to being her best in all areas. So I think that she’ll do a great job representing us throughout this next year.”
Known as a well-rounded student, some of Inaba’s achievements and activities at Woodland High School include All-State Honor Band, All-State Sight-reading Chorus, All-State Honor Chorus, District Honor Band, District Honor Chorus, Miss Woodland, Highest Overall Average in Accelerated Math II, Highest Overall Average in Honors Biology, Most Friendly Band Member, Homecoming Court, Marching Band – Drum Major, Wind Symphony – First Chair Flute, Women’s Choir, Girls Trio, Tri-M Music Honor Society’s president, Partnerships for Success’ secretary, Beta Club, Soloist, Cat PAWS (Peers Assisting Woodland Students) and Math Cats.
Along with winning the local DYW medallion, Inaba also received a $1,300 Overall Winner Award Scholarship, a $200 Scholastics Award Scholarship and the honor of representing Bartow in the state competition in August. Also receiving cash scholarships were Johnson, First Honoree, $900, and Self-Expression, $200; Fields, Second Honoree, $700; Gonzalez, Be Your Best Self, $200; Martin, Fitness, $200, and Talent, $200; Price, Fitness, $200, and Talent, $200; Jordan, Scholastic, $200; Quinn, Self-Expression, $200; and Bearden, Spirit, $200.
“I think the program that the audience saw [Sunday] was one of the strongest programs we’ve ever had,” Hufstetler said. “[2014 DYW of Bartow County] Brooke [Rucker] did such a great job of putting the program together. … [And] the caliber of the girls who were in the program this year was just outstanding. The people from the state committee commented on, ‘This was the best program we’ve ever seen.’ In a way it has to do with the way our community surrounds these girls to build them up. These girls didn’t just show up in January and say, ‘I think I’ll sing a song.’ They’ve had people working with them since they were young.
“Then we have so many people who come around the girls to work with them on interview and on talent. And Ashleyanne Hensley does an incredible job every year with the fitness routine and this year she also made most of the girls’ dresses or altered them in some way or helped with their talent costumes. So I think the program is getting better and better, not only because of the girls but because of the way the community really rallies together around these girls.”