It happened again this year.

I went to the Sterling Scholars semifinal competition (at my bosses' request)feeling jaded - a little "What's-to-say-after-umpty-years-of-covering-this-event."And I came back buoyed up, impressed, confident that the world will be in good hands long after I cash in and head for that great News Room in the Sky.

(Even as you read this, probably, the scholars will be in the spotlight as the ultimate winners are announced on KSL-TV. The 7 p.m. program brings center stage the creme-de-la-creme of Utah's seniors, academically speaking.)

These Sterling Scholars are super. They're articulate, poised, accomplished to the Nth degree, balanced, involved, concerned with the world around them.

I'm grateful to work for an organization that sponsors an event that brings recognition to these cream-of-the-croppers.

At the same time, I'm concerned that such events are eclipsed, far and away, by the hoopla that continues to center on high school athletics.

Oh, oh. Better watch it here. There may still be those who remember when I screamed for my son's high school football team to the extent of laryngitis. Those most likely to remember would be those who stood directly in front of me and who now wear hearing aids in memory of those days.

I confess to being a kids' sports junkie who has transferred her loyalties, of necessity, from children to grandchildren. I love it all. I don't want schools to throw out athletics - although I confess to an occasional twitch that tells me we've gone too far overboard.

What I'd like to see is equal status for scholarship. There's a special gift of re-invigoration that comes from discussing something marvelous with a young person who is more brains than biceps.

Ever hear of a high school basketball team that didn't show up for the state championship games because they couldn't afford it? I didn't think so.

Then why should some Utah Academic Decathlon teams have to forfeit the thrill of THEIR final competition for lack of funds? Some of the academic teams reportedly didn't show up in St. George in February because their districts couldn't afford to send them. Others paid their own way.

Living in an area rich with teenagers, I'm aware of how many fund-raisers students pitch to earn trips that are above and beyond the regular school budget. Many a band student has stood palms-up at my door, with the home-ec club, German club and pep club lined up behind. But I can't recall any 6-foot athletes coming around, chocolate bars in hand, to ask my assistance in getting to a competition. For very small groups, the going is even tougher.

I know, from experience that was painful to my budget, that parents pay for their athletes to participate. (The cost of today's athletic shoes is enough to unbalance the national budget, let alone mine.) I know that gate receipts offer an opportunity for athletic programs to support themselves. I know no one pays to see scholars perform.

I know, too, that Alta High School's Utah championship Academic Decathlon team is scrounging to get $7,000 to underwrite the costs of its trip to Rhode Island to show its stuff against scholars from the rest of the country.

The school is helping to the tune of $2,000 in money from its vending machines. No tax dollars are involved. The team members - 10 of them and a couple of sponsors - put on a dance to add $1,000, and they are soliciting help from businesses in the community.

In the end, their principal estimates, it will cost each student about $300 from their own pockets (i.e., parents' pockets in most instances) for the honor of representing Utah in a prestigious academic event.

It's time we gave our scholars the same rah! rah! rah! their athletic peers command, and stop the raw, raw, raw deal academic achievement has been given.