Wednesday marked the 30th Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards ceremony - a milestone for a program that was considered an experiment when it began.

In 1962 the sponsors acknowledged a need to bring to the high school scholar the same recognition as that available to the athlete. Too often members of the school's football or basketball team basked in the admiration of their peers while truly remarkable scholars graduated with little, if any, recognition.Following hours of planning with educators and civic leaders, the "experimental" scholastic recognition program was initiated for the schools in Salt Lake and Davis counties. Sponsors were hopeful that the program would catch on.

Catch on it did. High schools along the Wasatch Front were eager to join as they recognized the prestige associated with the program. But had the sponsors created more than they could handle as the program grew to include 46 high schools?

Other areas throughout the state wanted to be a part of the Sterling Scholar Awards. However, educators were hesitant to develop a statewide program because of the distance for travel to and from judging.

Therefore, school administrators and civic officials teamed together to develop their own regional programs following the guidelines of the Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholars Awards.

Today, Sterling Scholars are found not only along the Wasatch Front but in northeast, southwest, southeast and central Utah.

Three top students are selected in each of 12 categories of study. A winner and two runners-up are chosen in English, speech/drama, mathematics, social science, science, foreign language, visual arts, industrial education, home economics, business education, music and general scholarship.

More than 1,100 students statewide will receive embossed certificates while the finalists receive custom-designed silver pins. Each winner is awarded a year's scholarship at his or her choice of any of the state's major colleges or universities or Ricks College in Idaho. Many of the grants are renewable upon application each year.

In addition, runners-up have their choice of financial assistance at many of the participating institutions while finalists and nominees also receive grants of some value.

The selection process began last fall when nominees were chosen to represent their schools. Preliminary judging was held March 20 in Clearfield, Salt Lake City and Orem to determine finalists for last week's competition.

The winners and runners-up were chosen April 3, but the names remained secret with only a few program officials until they were announced during the live telecast Wednesday.