"Are you sure we can't have three runners-up? They're all so qualified and we had a tough time narrowing the field."

Comments like this were common among judges in the 30th annual Deseret News Sterling Scholar Awards program after they interviewed 15 students in each of 12 categories.In final judging April 3 at Highland High School, the 36 judges found their task difficult, and many deliberated into the early evening hours trying to decide on one winner and two runners-up in each category.

"I've done this five times before," said one judge. "I can't believe how each year's finalists seem to be better than the year before. Their qualifications are almost unbelievable."

Many of the judges cited not only the winner's scholastic excellence, but the student's community service and leadership. As one judge said, gesturing an inch between her thumb and index finger, "It's that close between being a winner and runner-up and between being a runner-up or not placing at all."

The following are thumbnail sketches of this year's winners:

- HEATHER RICHARDS, ENGLISH. A student at Highland High School and a member of the National Honor Society, she is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Richards, Salt Lake City. She has received numerous awards for her writing ability, including the Brown Book award from Brown University, a work study scholarship to the Writers at Work writing conference, honorable mention in the National Scholastic writing contest, first place in this year's Reflections contest and numerous others. She has served as poetry editor and co-editor of the school's literary magazine. At age 13, she compiled a collection of 29 poems she had written into a bound book. She visits local nursing homes and rest homes with her church group, often reading her poems to the patients. Her teacher describes the winner as proficient in all aspects of English scholarship. In her creative approach to all writing activities, she engages in the serious fun that language provides for students who care.

- ROBBYN RAE THOMPSON, SPEECH/

DRAMA. A daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Thompson, Provo, she ranks first in her senior class at Provo High School. She has received numerous awards from Southern Utah University in the high school Shakespearean acting festival and at district, region and school competition, to list a few. She is a member of the National Honor Society, maintains a 4.0 grade point average in such classes as advanced placement English, calculus, French, biology, U.S. history honors class, advanced algebra, and government and law. She serves as president of the school's thespian troupe and participated in a monthlong tour of European countries. Her talents have been seen in numerous school, church and community events, not only as a performer but behind the scenes with technical experience. She serves as an officer in the school's Key Club and as a volunteer for muscular dystrophy, cancer fund, Sub-for-Santa, blood drive and others.

- BEN BARROWES, MATHEMATICS. A son of Mr. and Mrs. Steven C. Barrowes, Salt Lake City, the winner ranks third in his senior class of 610 at Cottonwood High School. In the American High School Mathematics Exam, he was seventh in his school as a sophomore while living in Illinois, first as a junior at Cottonwood, and first as a senior. In the Utah Math Contest, he was fourth in the state for juniors. He scored a perfect score of five on both AB and BC versions of the advanced placement calculus examination with the BC portion completed by independent study. As a senior, he is a tutor for advanced placement calculus, physics and geometry, and serves as president of the math club. Other awards include being named the Tandy Technology Scholar at Cottonwood, sixth in the state's VICA competition for electronic technology, fourth in computer science and chemistry in the Junior Engineering Technical Society, and many others.

- ROBERT HUGHES, SOCIAL SCIENCE. A two-year member of the National Honor Society at Provo High School, he is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dean T. Hughes, Provo. He is a National Merit finalist, Shell Century III Leaders state winner, senate youth school winner, Telluride Association summer program finalist, recipient of academic letters in social science, mathematics, science and English, and recipient of excellence in science awards for biology, AP biology and physiology. He served as city councilman and county commissioner at Boys State, was freshman class president, is editor of the school newspaper and senior class senator. As a Boy Scout, he earned his Eagle Scout award and attended the national jamboree. He served as a youth volunteer for United Way and is a member of Sen. Orrin Hatch's youth advisory committee.

- SOHAIL TAVAZOIE, SCIENCE. The winner is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Mahmoud Tavazoie, Sandy, and ranks fifth in the senior class of 688 at Brighton High School. He is the only Brighton student this year to have taken all advanced placement science courses available. He completed a biology lab at the University of Utah and later took a lab technique course at the university. Last year he was one of 20 considered the state's promising biology and chemistry students and was among few being placed into labs during the summer. He is currently employed as a bacterial geneticist. Born in Tehran, Iran, his family escaped to avoid almost certain death. He cites this experience and the transition to another culture as contributing to his intellectual and personal growth. He says, "When I see the freedom and opportunities I have now as compared to what I had in Iran, I am compelled by the greatest force imaginable to succeed in all that I do."

- FRANCIE CREBS, FOREIGN LANGUAGE. A daughter of Penny DeGraffenried and Douglas L. Crebs, the winner is a senior at American Fork High School. She excels in French and has studied Italian, Latin and German, scoring in the 90th percentile on the level four National German Test this year. Currently enrolled in advanced placement German, she helps her classmates learn and improve their language by example and partner work. Her talent extends into writing, and she was named one of four winners in a high school playwright contest. Her play is now under review in a national contest to select premiere playwrights in the nation.

- SHAUNA LORENZO-RIVERO, VISUAL ARTS. A daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Luis Lorenzo-Rivero, the winner has won numerous awards as a student at Olympus High School. She has won best of show in Utah State Fair and Hansen Planetarium competition, award of merit and congressional award in the Springville all-state high school art show, and sweepstakes in the Utah Pageant of the Arts competition. She won first-place awards in the Congressional Art Show, Salt Lake County visual art show, Utah State Fair and Intermountain Society of Artists competition. She has received other awards for her watercolors, sculpture, photography, pottery and other media from Utah Water Color Society, Eccles Community Art Center, Salt Lake Community College and Catholic Community Services of Utah. She has been a member of the National Honor Society for four years. She is currently photo editor, cartoonist and reporter for the school newspaper; photo editor of the yearbook; and a member of the literary magazine staff.

- THOMAS M. AKAYI, INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION. A student at Taylorsville High School, the winner is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Akayi of Salt Lake City. His interest in industrial education focuses on occupational graphics, computerized 3-D animation, video production and drafting. He has received awards in VICA competition regionally, statewide and nationally. The winner helps plan activities with the youth task force of the Asian Association of Utah, prints newsletters for the group and serves on the Orrin Hatch Youth Advisory Committee. He is active in the Utah and national Close-up programs for members of different cultures. He is currently on the production staff for the Taylorsville video yearbook.

- CHRISTINE CALDER, HOME ECONOMICS. A daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Calder, Provo, the winner is the state president of Future Homemakers of America and was Girls State delegate from Provo High School. A member of the National Honor Society, she received the Brigham Young University "Y Award" for outstanding leadership, won district and state awards in the "Make It With Wool" contest, and attended the national FHA convention in San Antonio, where she was a workshop presenter. During 1990, the winner received three-star ratings in region and state FHA competitions and received honors in the ZCMI tablesetting contest this year. She has served as sophomore class secretary, student body senator, member of the Orrin Hatch Youth Advisory Committee and served on planning committees for FHA and Girls State events. Her volunteer work includes helping the United Way, Family Support and Treatment Center, Women's Crisis Center, Ronald McDonald House, school blood drive, American Cancer Society. In other projects, she prepared fruit baskets for the elderly and raised money and supplies for orphans in Romania.

- KATHRYN BENNETT, BUSINESS EDUCATION. Ranking first in a senior class of 580 at Layton High School, the winner is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Noall J. Bennett, Layton. During her junior year, she helped to reorganize and restructure the school's chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. She has been active in FBLA activities, serving as historian and junior vice president as well as being instrumental in organizing lectures, conferences and social activities. She has put her business knowledge to work in commercial organizations, where she has demonstrated bookkeeping, marketing and accounting skills. A member of the National Honor Society, the winner says she has "learned that service is not only beneficial to others, but also to myself."

- SYLVIA RAMACHANDRAN, MUSIC. The winner in music from Cottonwood High School has a long list of accomplishments in school, region and state competition. She represented her school at the Governor's School for Excellence in Music while living in Delaware, served as first chair flute in the Utah All-state Orchestra and was selected as one of 18 to participate in the National Flute Association's national high school flute choir. She teaches not only beginning flute students, but works with players approaching her own skills. She also learned to play the violin, trombone and piano and performs as the accompanist and coach for the school choir. A member of the National Honor Society, the winner ranks 1.5 in a senior class of 610 and also serves as editor of the school newspaper. She is the daughter of Barbara McKay of Salt Lake City.

- LISA GROW, GENERAL SCHOLARSHIP. As you would expect of the leader in general scholarship, the winner has a long list of accomplishments. Ranking first in a senior class of 688 at Brighton High School, she is a National Merit finalist; received pins for academic letters in social studies, forensics, English, science, foreign language and music, along with a debate activity letter. She received the National Forensic League's seal of distinction and won first place in the league's Great Salt Lake District tournament in extemporaneous speaking, which qualified her for national competition. In the National California Invitational for extemporaneous speaking, she was named a semifinalist. She was the state's winner and among the top 15 students nationally in the Future Problem Solving Team. Her advanced placement tests included 5s in American history, biology and music theory; ACT scores of English 36, mathematics 32, reading 36, science reasoning 32 and a composite of 34. Her cumulative grade point average for six years is 4.0. She has received University of Utah honors at entrance scholarship and Brigham Young University trustee scholarship, was state finalist for Century III leadership scholarship and is a Presidential Scholar semifinalist. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grow of Salt Lake City.

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(Additional information)

Months of preparation yield fruit

As winners and runners-up were announced Wednesday during the Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards program, months of preparation by hundreds of individuals came into focus.

Starting last fall, the Deseret News extended invitations to 46 high schools along the Wasatch Front. Meanwhile, directors in four other areas of the state organized their own programs in northwest, southeast, southwest and central Utah. Today, all 40 school districts in Utah participate.

At each school a coordinator was appointed and became an important link in the organizational chain. Success of the program, specifically at the schools, depends heavily on the dedication and cooperation of this faculty member.

Following guidelines established by the sponsors, the coordinators helped the students prepare portfolios that reflected their accomplishments and activities during four years of study.

The coordinators also kept the students aware of important dates, especially those for submitting portfolios, participating in preliminary and final judging, and making sure the finalists arrived on time for the awards ceremony Wednesday evening.