Wednesday was "tie-and-tales day" at several Utah high schools.

Ties - and dressy dresses - were the apparel of the day and the tales were success stories told by Sterling Scholar candidates as they met judges in the preliminary round of the student competition.While students from 16 northern Utah high schools strutted their stuff at Clearfield High School, the scene was being repeated at Highland High School in Salt Lake City and Orem High School for competitors in the central and south regions.

Finalists will meet again April 3 in Salt Lake City, with the ultimate winners honored April 10 at Cottonwood High School in a 7 p.m. program broadcast by KSL-TV. The 1991 competition marked the end of the third decade of the scholarship event, co-sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL to spotlight exceptional high school achievers. Students compete in 12 areas of academic and vocational accomplishment. At Orem High, where 155 students from Utah County's 10 high schools and five south Salt Lake County high schools met, most said meeting other students with similar talents and ambitions is the biggest reward. Others said they're after the scholarships, recognition and competition.

"It's an opportunity other than sports for students to compete against students from the entire state," said Christie Peery, a music scholar from Timpview High School.

"I'd like to move on, but just being a Sterling Scholar from my school is an incredible feeling," said Russell Bell, a science scholar from Orem High School.

"It boosts your confidence to know that you have actually done something that makes you a well-rounded person," said Angie Blodgett, a music scholar from Jordan High School.

And even though preparing a portfolio is a difficult and demanding task, students said they are thankful they had a reason to do so.

"It's a good time to look back in your life and see just what you've accomplished," said Michelle Watabe, a music scholar from Orem High School.

While Sterling Scholars tend to be very well behaved, at Clearfield High, Kati Koldewyn of Ben Lomond couldn't resist a peek through the window of a classroom where a competitor in the English category was being put through his paces.

"I know he's intelligent," she said. "We competed against each other in the Academic Olympiad at Utah State University." "Where do they get these kinds of scores!" exclaimed Stephen Jolley of Bingham High School, who was chatting with his co-judge, Colin Johnson of Utah State University, between sessions with students in the speech/drama category.

They didn't have time to visit long before Andrew Smith of Layton High School was there, prepared to recite a dramatic piece from a Joseph Conrad work. Andrew told the judges he isn't looking at a career in drama, but he expects his high school experience in all forms of speech and acting to stand him in good stead, whatever career choice he makes.

The judging can be a tense time for adults as well as students. Diane Bastian, propped against a hallway wall while she waited, found the fine cross-stitch of a Christmas piece a good time-consumer and a great substitute for nail-biting. She was waiting to accompany Layton student Dale Clark for his violin rendition of Tchaikovsky's 1st Violin Concerto, but her heart was down the hall and around the corner where her son, Jared, was meeting with judges in the arts category. Jared attends Bountiful High School.

It was easy to tell Lex Godfrey of Bear River was feeling good about his performance before the industrial arts judges. A hefty foot stomp, an ear-to-ear grin and a hearty "Yes!" let his fellow scholars know he was pleased.

"The judges are sincere," he said. "They ask questions about you, not about what makes you better than someone else."

Lex is headed for a career as a veterinarian. A lifetime of farming has convinced him of the need for a strong agricultural base in America. "People have to eat," he said.

Ryne Maiello of Roy High School also has her eye on veterinary science, but at the moment her eye - the left one at least - is a deep shade of purple. She was bringing a bull in when her horse fell and threw her into a fence. Despite the shiner and a cheek full of stitches, she was eager to sing the praises of agriculture to the judges in the industrial arts category.

Ben Lomond Assistant Principal Tim Smith became the "keeper of the keys" when students needed their hands free for bigger and better things. He characterized the Sterling Scholars program as "an exceptionally fine opportunity to put students of this caliber on display. We have parades and pep rallies for our athletes, but little to show off our academic winners."