By Matthew Keck —
Each year, five out of 100 girls are crowned Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) Princesses, and this year two University of Louisville students were crowned. Junior Gia Combs and sophomore Leah Hazelwood were selected for the 2020 KDF Royal Court Jan. 4.
For Combs, this was a childhood dream come true. “I actually always wanted to be a princess since I was little,” she said.
As for Hazelwood, this was an opportunity to represent the state she calls home. “I’ve always been a person who is by Kentucky and for Kentucky,” said Hazelwood. “This Commonwealth has done so much for me.”
Both women are looking to give back and make a difference in their communities with this new title. Hazelwood is involved in the local organization She Became, which aims to educate third through fifth grade girls about potential careers and instill confidence in them as leaders.
“It’s amazing for the girls to see that princesses aren’t just pretty,” said Hazelwood. “And they’re also right here in your community, and they look like you and they act like you and they grew up from the same background as you. Not all princesses are Cinderellas.”
Combs started working with the Resilient Families Project (RFP) last semester and is looking to make an impression on the children there as well. “I think it would be really exciting to go and just be an inspiration to all the kids,” she said. She sees this as being a role model for the children in the RFP, and thinks it can show them they can do anything they set their minds too.
Something both of them are adjusting to is all the attention that comes with being a KDF Royal Court Princess. “[Having] strangers coming up to me and asking to take pictures and hug me,” said Hazelwood. “That’s not something I’ve experienced before.”
These women don’t only get crowned as princesses for the 2020 festival season either. They both will receive $2000 in scholarship money that is awarded by the Fillies and KDF Foundation. Much like other scholarships, they have to meet certain requirements including maintaining a 3.0 GPA.
On top of that, they have a busy schedule as princesses. During the festival season, Combs and Hazelwood will be attending nearly 70 events. One of those events is the Fillies Derby Ball, where either woman could be crowned Derby Festival Queen. They will also be at other KDF events such as Thunder Over Louisville and the KDF parade.
The KDF Royal Court Princesses have been around since 1957, which was the second year of the festival. Previous and notable princesses include former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins and the late Gail Gorski, the first female pilot hired by United Airlines.
The two newly crowned princesses said they hope to see fellow students at one of the 70 events they will be attending.
Photo Courtesy of Official KDF Photographer Marvin Young