Never mind that it had been a dismal Wednesday in Salt Lake City, with winter staging a die-hard comeback. Never mind that a few Johnny-Come-Lately flakes insisted on getting in their two-bits' worth as evening came on.

Inside Cottonwood High School, there was enough glow, enthusiasm and energy to pop fruit trees into blossom, had they been inside instead of out. It was Sterling Scholar payoff time, the 30th annual Deseret News/KSL salute to some of Utah's most outstanding high school seniors.With KSL's television cameras catching the moment for posterity, 180 finalists in 12 academic areas paraded to the stage. As they left, there were two runners-up and a first-place winner among the 15 in each category.

Some, like Provo High senior Robert Hughes, the social science winner, gave it away before the name had been announced. A big grin split his face as he recognized as his own the litany of accomplishments being read by Salt Lake County Commissioner D. Michael Stewart.

His classmate, Christine Calder, also was receiving the congratulations of her fellow finalists in the home economics category before she was named winner. As usual, the scholars were gracious and congratulatory of those in their number who took top spots.

Besides Stewart, presenters included former Miss America and current ESPN feature reporter (and new mother) Sharlene Wells Hawkes; former Utah first lady Norma Matheson; and Don Gale, Bonneville International Corp. vice president for news and public affairs.

Hawkes couldn't resist a jab at master of ceremonies Kent Norton, reminding him that he also emceed the Sterling Scholars awards program "way back then" when she was a semifinalist in social sciences. That was 1982.

For Norton, possibly the most difficult part of Wednesday evening's presentation was climbing up and down the ladder that took him to his perch on a scaffolding, one of three from which TV crews recorded the proceedings.

Before the awards ceremony actually got under way, the finalists enjoyed some tense but tolerable waiting time visiting.

"It's a good feeling that the winners are already decided," said Marquessa Bullock of Mountain Crest. On two earlier occasions, the finalists had faced judges as the field was narrowed. Marquessa confessed to "a little excitement and a little apprehension." She held onto the excitement and dropped the apprehension as she was named a runner-up in the music category.

"I'm glad she's a smart kid. She takes after her mother," said Paul Thompson as he and his wife, Carolyn, waited for the spotlight to rest on their daughter, Robbyn Rae, a finalist in the speech/drama category.

Thompson admitted - tongue in cheek - to having deserted his daughter. She remained in Provo to attend high school when her parents moved to Ogden. Thompson is the new president of Weber State University. His wife said Robbyn sometimes wondered, "Is all this work worth it?" Wednesday night, when she was announced the winner in her category, she knew that it was.

And she obviously wasn't holding the "desertion" against her parents.

"You're the best parents I've ever owned," she exulted as she hugged them both after having a picture taken for the Deseret News.

For one young scholar, Wednesday night's recognition was another affirmation of the beauty of life in the United States. Sohail Tavazoie's family left Iran eight years ago to avoid "certain death" in the troubled politics of the area. The family has watched recent events in the Persian Gulf with concern, since many of their relatives are still in that area, he said.

For a young immigrant who spoke English poorly to become winner of the Sterling Scholar science category is evidence of the tremendous opportunity available in a free country, Sohail said. He plans to attend the University of California-Berkeley to study genetics and/or medicine. A brother, Saeed, teaches physics at the University of Utah and also talks of going to a California school - Stanford - to continue his education.

Masoud, the Tavazoie's fifth-grader, had a glow of pride Wednesday night at his big brother's accomplishment. He is getting ready to take his own turn at the Sterling Scholar competition, he said.

When Kathryn Bennett of Layton High School was announced the winner in the business education category, it was a happy moment for her father, Noall, who said the high school had never had a winner, to his knowledge - until now.

The Sterling Scholar efforts tend to become family affairs, said Dr. R. Kim Davis, whose daughter, Kimberly Jo, was still reveling in her designation as a science runner-up.

"It's been a wonderful experience - very motivating and uplifting," said Davis. The emphasis on scholarly achievements is a nice counterbalance to all the hoopla about athletics, he added. Kimberly Jo will be heading for Brigham Young University this fall with her sights on "molecular biology or genetic engineering."

West High School singers added oomph to the evening with a rousing rendition of "Oom Pah Pah," a number from "Oliver," and Highland High School's jazz band jazzed up intervals between awards presentation. East High School's senior ensemble and barbershop quartet also contributed to the evening's entertainment.

When scholars vie for the sterling, there's a teacher behind them who cares. Wednesday evening, one such teacher, Lois Johnson of American Fork High School, was honored as the year's "Most Influential."


Sterling Scholars - Winners, 1991

Lisa Grow, Brighton, General Scholarship

Sohail Tavazole, Brighton, Science

Christine Calder, Provo, Home Economics

Robert Hughes, Provo, Social Science

Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero, Olympus, Visual Arts

Robbyn Rae Thompson, Provo, Speech/Drama

Thomas M. Akagi, Taylorsville, Industrial Education

Ben Barrowes, Cottonwood, Mathematics

Sylvia Ramachandran, Cottonwood, Music

Francie Crebs, American Fork, Foreign Language

Heather Richards, Highland, English

Kathryn Bennett, Layton, Business Education


English: Jennfier Rees, Alta; Michael Chipman, Bingham

Speech/Drama: Luci Saltkill, Cyprus; Matthew T. Bentley, Logan

Mathematics: Jason Bleazard, Skyline; Royal Hansen, East

Social Science: Laura Hammitt, Brighton; Cynthia McFadden, Sky View

Science: Jennifer Allen, Clearfield; Kimberly Davis, Murray

Foreign Language: Velvet L. Rodriguez. Provo; Alyssa A. Bentley, Murray

Visual Arts: Ryan Olson, Timpview; Jared Bastian, Bountiful

Industrial Education: Kyle Gill Frank, Weber; Jennifer Wood, Jordan

Home Economics: Sarah Gaines, Olympus; Natalie Anne Brown, East

Business Education: Yuri Lily Takenaka, Cottonwood; Merilee M. Arave, Mountain View

Music: Christine Peery, Timpview; Marquessa Bullock, Mountain Crest

General Scholarship: Michael Durham, Timpview; Joel Pulliam, West