THE stage is set for the event of the year in the world of grass roots sport. The Local Heroes Awards 2002, powered by npower, take place next Thursday at Tall Trees Hotel, near Yarm.

And earlier this week, the judges sifted through a mountain of nominations to come up with the finalists.

The awards are now in their third year and each year the quality and quantity of entries has grown.

The judges - Gary Doig, Community Relations Officer for npower, Nigel Armstrong, commercial director of Bannatyne Fitness, Maureen Dixon, of Orange, and Peter Barron, Editor of the Northern Echo - had a difficult task in choosing the category winners and overall Local Hero.

Those names are a closely-guarded secret until next Thursday when the awards will be presented before an audience of 600 people, including sporting celebrities.

Whoever wins the overall Local Hero Award of 2002, will proceed weightlifter, Steven Grey, who took the title at the first awards night two years ago, and over-40s football league co-ordinater Kip Watson was given the Local Hero award in 2001.

It is a night when the stars of professional sport - such as Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Rob Andrew and Newcastle United star Craig Bellamy - rub shoulders with the stars of grass roots sport.

The event is guaranteed to be a unique combination of fun, passion and emotion.

Peter Barron said: "The judging process was a humbling experience because there are so many worthy entries.

"The North-East is full of people who are dedicating their lives to community sport in so many different ways. Everything from local football to water polo is covered."

The evening will also feature a Question of Sport hosted by Century FM star Paul "Goffy" Gough and a charity auction in aid of Sports Aid Northern, which invests in sport at the grass roots in the North-East.

Tickets for the big night cost £10, to include a four-course meal, and are available by calling (01325) 505286.