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The stage is set and the spotlight will shine on hundreds of the Chattanooga area's top high school athletes and coaches as the annual Best of Preps awards banquet returns to an in-person event Wednesday evening.

A total of 24 awards will be presented during the ceremony, which returns to the Chattanooga Convention Center after two years as an online event due to the pandemic. Doors will open at 6 p.m., dinner begins at 6:30.

All athletes and coaches who were named to a Best of Preps team during the past school year can claim their complimentary ticket to the event by contacting marketing@timesfreepress.com. All others can purchase tickets at bestofprepschatt.com.

Among the awards that will be presented are the Scrappy Moore awards for Female Athlete of the Year, Male Athlete of the Year and overall Coach of the Year.

The six finalists for this year's Female Athlete of the Year award are Northwest Whitfield's Emma Allen, Girls Preparatory School's Ansley Blevins, East Hamilton's McKenna Hayes, Dade County's Stella Henry, Sonoraville's Taylor Long and Signal Mountain's Kara Wilson.

The six finalists for the Male Athlete of the Year award are Cleveland's Tetoe Boyd, Calhoun's Dylan Faulkner, East Hamilton's Jeremiah Flemmons, Baylor's Henry Godbout, McCallie's William Riddle and Silverdale Baptist Academy's Brett Rogers.

The six finalists for overall Coach of the Year are Dalton Academy boys' soccer coach Rury Alvarez, Trion wrestling coach Eric Brock, South Pittsburg football co-head coaches Heath Grider and Wes Stone, Baylor softball coach Kelli Smith, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe girls' basketball coach Dewayne Watkins and McCallie cross country and track and field coach Mike Wood.

The guest speaker will be University of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who this past season guided the program to its first national championship since 1980.

"We are excited to be back to a live event with Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett as our speaker as he prepares to help the Bulldogs defend their title," said Kate Tew, marketing and events manager for the Times Free Press. "Stetson's story of going from walk-on to last season's national championship MVP is an impressive message for our region's student-athletes."

Bennett went to Georgia as a walk-on player in 2017 and was best known as a freshman for emulating Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield on the Bulldogs' scout team as they prepared for their national semifinal Rose Bowl game that season. He left the program after the 2018 G-Day spring game and played that season at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi, where he threw for 1,840 yards and 16 touchdowns while guiding the team to a 10-2 record. He then rejoined the Bulldogs in January 2019 as a scholarship player and was a backup that fall behind Jake Fromm.

After playing in eight of Georgia's 10 games during the 2020 season, including five starts, Bennett was third on the depth chart last summer but rose to the starter's role early in the season.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder from Blackshear, Georgia, helped the Bulldogs finally topple Alabama with a late rally for a 33-18 victory in January in Indianapolis.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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