THE stage is set for the biggest night of the year in grassroots sport.

The Local Heroes Awards 2003 sponsored by npower will be presented tonight at a ceremony in the Tall Trees Hotel, near Yarm.

Celebrity guests include Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren, Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy, and world swimming record holder Mark Foster.

More than 500 people will pack the hotel for the event which has become known as The Oscars of Grassroots Sport.

Thousands of pounds will be raised for Sports Aid Northern, which provides financial support for the region's young sportsmen and women.

The evening will be compered by the editor of The Northern Echo, Peter Barron, with 96.6 TFM's Tom Davies also appearing on stage to present Steve McClaren's Dream Team competition.

The evening will be opened by opera star Suzannah Clarke, who hails from Teesside, singing a piece specially arranged for the ceremony.

Mr McClaren said: "It's absolutely vital to support sport at the grassroots and encourage talent and commitment.

"I'm delighted to be involved in The Northern Echo's Local Heroes Awards and look forward to meeting some outstanding competitors."

Mr McCarthy agreed that it was essential to encourage sport at a grassroots level.

He said: "I'm really looking forward to meeting some of the region's sporting stars of the future."

The results from tonight's awards ceremony will appear in tomorrow's Local Heroes supplement, free every Friday with The Northern Echo.

And don't miss a special souvenir supplement, packed with pictures from the awards, in Local Heroes on November 28.

Order your copy today.