Murray • The big annual event at Riverview Junior High isn't a dance or a sporting event: It's the Ninth Grade Dutch Oven Cook-off.
Riverview teacher Janet Wayman started the contest 21 years ago, and it's gained momentum ever since.
Each year, more than half of the school's ninth-graders participate in Wayman's competition. Many students begin looking forward it in elementary school after watching older siblings toil over the blackened, tight-lidded pots, trying to master intricate dishes in preparation for the event.
"It's a tradition," said assistant principal Jim Bouwman. "It's a place where all kids can be successful and have a lot of fun."
The Utah Education Association (UEA) honored Wayman recently with an Excellence in Teaching Award, given to teachers who make a significant impact on a student or group of students.
"I was really floored. I just thought 'wow,' " she said. "I love teaching, and I love working with kids. I just thought, 'OK, maybe I'm going in the right direction.' "
Wayman was one of 10 teachers in Utah to win the award.
"It's one way for us to recognize all the creative teaching that goes on in classrooms throughout the state," said Michael Kelley, spokesman for UEA. "We wish we could provide a reward for every teacher, but this is one small way to recognize teachers that have such a great impact in our classrooms."
Wayman, who teaches family and consumer science, received $1,000.
"I wasn't really surprised because she's an excellent teacher," said ninth-grader Kendra Koester. "She has a lot of patience with her students, and she explains things really well."
Added fellow ninth-grader Camille Walker of the 29-year teaching veteran, "She's funny, and she's not intimidating and scary like most teachers."
The cook-off is open only to ninth-graders so students know they have only one shot at the coveted title. Twins Brittany and Heather Chesley are already preparing for the spring contest. Brittany plans to make shredded-chicken hamburgers while Heather hopes to outdo her sibling with a garlic-chicken dish.
Students learn from the best when working with Wayman. She has won both the national and world championship in Dutch oven cooking. She recently recorded a DVD, "Dutch Oven Cooking with Janet Wayman," which will be available for purchase at the Self Reliance Expo at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy on Friday and Saturday.
One of Wayman's favorite things about the cook-off is watching students excel, especially those unaccustomed to the spotlight.
"I've seen kids win the competition that aren't really interested in school," she said. "They're not on an athletic team, but they do amazingly well. It's fun to see some of those kids that are just kind of quiet get recognized."