Judges in the Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholars Awards Program have a common complaint, and it's not about reading stacks and stacks of student portfolios. The judges say it's almost impossible to single out one outstanding student when none of the finalists was anything short of impressive.

"What is amazing is that they excel in so many areas, the school play, music, tennis, science. They excel everywhere," said Betty Condie of the Utah Education Association, a general scholarship judge.On April 6, Condie and 35 other professionals in the 12 awards categories devoted their day to poring over student portfolios before the final interviews. After eight hours of study and interviews at Skyline High School, the weary judges selected the 12 Sterling Scholars for 1988 and the 24 runners-up.

"I don't see how they do it," said University of Utah communications professor Parry D. Sorensen, a judge in English. "I'd hate to be in school today."

Sorensen was referring to the teenagers' consistently high grades while participating in a wide range of activities ranging from volunteer work in hospitals to tutoring other students.

He pulled out the portfolio of an English finalist who had a string of "A" grades in physics, biology and French as well as English. Her report card's only blemish was an "A-". She was listed as ranking second in a class of 493 students. "I don't think I've seen anybody today who ranked lower than ninth in his class," Sorensen said.

To help in the selection, each judge was given a worksheet to rank the finalists as they read through the portfolios. The judges were told to weigh 50 percent of their points in scholarship, 25 percent in leadership and 25 percent citizenship. They were also cautioned to judge on actual accomplishments, not potential.

A judge in business education, Barbara Gittins, director of budget operations for the Utah System of Higher Education, searched the portfolios for the students' business involvement and found more than just grades. Many of the finalists learned about profit margins by starting their own small companies.

"These are really exciting kids," said Salt Lake artist Keith Montague after reviewing the portfolio of a finalist who had "A's" in calculus and art.

"We'd (USU) be happy to attract a small number of these students; any college would," added Utah State University biologist Richard Mueller, a science judge.

He said the finalists should be proud of their accomplishments. "They are all clearly deserving of being Sterling Scholars. I hope they don't feel they've failed if they're not selected. It would be a tragedy if anyone felt that way," the judge said.