KEARNS — For many sports fans, it is considered the "Holy Grail" of all championship trophies.

It's nearly worshipped by hockey players and coaches. It's revered by diehards, who have watched heroes hoist it above their heads in celebration. For heck's sake, it even has its own escort and bodyguard.

No doubt, the Stanley Cup — the cherished prize for the winner of the NHL championship that is currently on a mini-tour in Utah in conjunction with the Community Olympic Development Program — is not just another trophy.

"It's the most recognizable trophy in pro sports," said Mike Bolt of the NHL Hall of Fame. "I've seen grown men cry when I've brought it out."

Bolt, officially known as the "Keeper of the Cup," saw 600 exuberant teenagers go bonkers Tuesday afternoon when he hauled the cool, shiny thing that got them out of sixth period into Jefferson Junior High's gymnasium.

"This is what it's really all about," said Bolt, who tours the world — going to the U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe — to show off the Cup at schools and hospitals. "This is the future generation (of hockey fans). We want to get them excited about it."

Olivia Paulo, a 7th-grader and hockey fan from Hawaii, was certain her dad was going to be jealous. She not only saw the famous award; she felt with her own fingers.

"My dad is going to be like, 'Whoa! You touched that!?'" she exclaimed with a beaming smile. "I was excited that I saw it."

Some students were trying to figure out what all the fuss was about — even after the Q&A session during which Bolt informed them that 2,068 names are currently inscribed on the nearly 3-foot-tall metal memento (97 percent silver, 3 percent nickel) that weighs 34 pounds and has been around in one shape or another since 1892 when Lord Stanley ordered it from England.

"It's cool and it's weird," said eight-grader Nia Conrad.

There were a few savvy hockey guys, however, who thought it was the coolest thing this side of the hockey rink.

"It's awesome. I'm speechless," said Alex Chidester, a St. Louis Blues fan whose friends claim he's the biggest hockey guru in the school.

"It represents the NHL championship and Lord Stanley," said seventh-grader Nick Francis, who was sporting an Avalanche sweater. "It's cool — if it's real."

The Stanley Cup (and, yes, this was the legitimate puppy) was in the area for two days to help promote professional hockey to youngsters and, more importantly, to help raise awareness for the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer charity organization.

The Cup, which travels around the world nearly all year, has helped raise over $3 million for cancer research since it began touring like this in 1999.

These Kearns-area junior high students were fortunate — if only because they missed some class — to get an up-close look at the Stanley Cup a day before it was to make a stop at Shriners Hospital. They also got to cheer on Parker Vance, a Jefferson student and potential Olympian who is the CODP speedskating athlete of the year.

After Tuesday's assembly, interested students also had a chance to participate in the CODP Fitness Challenge, which tests strength, speed, agility, muscular endurance, power and aerobic capacity.

The physical fitness program, locally sponsored by The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital (TOSH), has several purposes.

First, it helps raise physical fitness awareness. Second, it informs students to Olympic sports that might best fit them. And third, it gives CODP a talent pool to draw from as it compares results from students around the area. The top performers from each participating school from the Granite School District (and eventually other districts) will be invited to training camps to introduce them to Olympic sports they could excel in.

Said Dain LaRoche, an exercise physiologist from TOSH who administered the physical tests: "It gives them feedback, gets them interested and gives them something to look forward to."

Similar feelings, Bolt hopes, the students will have when they tell their tales about seeing and touching the coveted Cup.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com