Christopher Heaton anxiously paced the halls of American Fork High School while waiting to be summoned by a panel of judges to solve a complex mathematical riddle in 10 minutes or less.

"What would I rather being doing right now? Just about anything else," Heaton said with a quick smile. "I'm sure it will go fine. I'm just a little nervous."The Provo senior on Wednesday joined 612 students from 51 high schools across the Wasatch Front in the first round of competition of the 37th annual Sterling Scholar awards. Preliminaries were held at schools in Davis, Utah and Salt Lake counties.

Heaton, 17, was encouraged to apply for the Sterling Scholar in mathematics by his father, Hal, who was the state winner in the same subject some 20 years ago. A 32 score on the math portion of the ACT and high marks in math classes taken at Brigham Young University helped Chris Heaton win the spot.

Each high school chooses one outstanding student for each of the 12 judged categories. Students are evaluated by a portfolio that outlines their academic and extracurricular achievements. Depending on the category being judged, students also may be required to answer a question, deliver a speech, play an instrument or perform a dance during a 10-minute interview.

The event, sponsored by the Deseret News and KSL Television, suffered minor setbacks when some judges could not travel through the record-breaking snow storm for the competition. But the show went on.

Fifteen students in each category advanced into the final round Wednesday. Finalists will now face off on March 11 at East High School for the top Sterling Scholar award.

Winners and runner-ups will share cash scholarships of nearly $20,000.

Dapper in a dark suit and tie, Spanish Fork senior Tyler Nelson dressed the part of a businessman. He was ready for his interview about business and marketing techniques.

Nelson, 17, wants to be an accountant and has taken all the business classes the Nebo School Dis-trict high school offers. He also works as an intern at a local accounting firm.

"I took an accounting class last year and loved it," he said. "That changed my whole education."

If he wins, he'd likely use the cash award to pay for tuition while completing lower division classes at Utah Valley State College. He eventually plans to attend accounting classes at Utah State University in Logan.

Melissa Price didn't enter the competition solely for the money. The auburn-haired violinist loves to perform; to hear audiences roar approval of her music.

"It's for fun. Just to see how far I can go," said Price, a senior at Alta High School. "When I play I try to put everything I feel into the performance. There's nothing like it."

A 13-year violin student, Price was pushed into music lessons by her grandmother.

"She always wanted someone in our family to play the violin," she said. "I just took to it."

Price wants to attend Brigham Young University for a few semesters before transferring to Michigan University. She eventually wants to teach violin lessons but not before experiencing the limelight as a solo performer.

"There are so many more opportunities to perform back East," she said.

Lavaniya Sutton has played the violin for seven years but hasn't decided if she wants to dedicate her life to the study of music. The 16-year-old represented Orem High School.

"I don't plan on majoring in music," Sutton said. "There's just too many options."

Sutton, who plans to attend the University of Utah in the fall, was confident with her performance. She was surprised at the friendliness of the judging panel.

"I'm just glad I didn't have to sing," she joked, adding that she's been fighting a cold.

"At our school, being a Sterling Scholar is an honor in and of itself," she said. "If I don't win, then I'll just look at it as a stepping stone."