Former semi-finalists St Cuthbert’s RC Primary clinched the 2022 Sunderland Hoops 4 Health crown in front of a packed Vertu Motors Arena crowd.

Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation’s long-running schools programme — which combines healthy living messages with thrill-a-minute hoops — is back following its enforced Covid layoff.

And St Cuthbert’s clinched a thrilling regional final against Barnes Junior 1 after sneaking past former winners Seaburn Dene in one of the tightest semi-finals in Hoops 4 Health history.

“It’s wonderful to have Hoops 4 Health back again,” said St Cuthbert’s member of staff Suzanne Robbins.

“Sport and participating in team events is so important for our children — not only for their physical health but also for their mental wellbeing.

St Cuthbert’s RC Primary lifted the 2022 Sunderland Hoops 4 Health champions trophy. (Photos: Abbie Orwin)

“Due to covid restrictions, we couldn’t have any Eagles coaching this year and we weren’t even sure whether the Hoops 4 Health regional tournament at City Space would go ahead.

“The children had limited coaching but they’re a strong team with a great attitude.

“We were over the moon when we got through to the semi-finals and between the qualifying tournament and the semis the team practiced every day.

“It was great to see their hard work pay off in front of a big crowd at the Vertu Motors Arena.”

St Cuthbert’s, Barnes Junior I and II and Seaburn Dene locked horns in the semi-finals prior to tip-off at Newcastle Eagles’ BBL clash against Manchester Giants.

And the winners went head-to-head for the Sunderland title during half-time — St Cuthbert’s bagging a late basket to clinch a nip and tuck final.

“It was a great experience for our children,” added Suzanne. “They could see the BBL team play and be part of the amazing atmosphere that the crowd generated.

“They felt really proud to be there.

“Basketball’s such an inclusive sport and it’s very popular with — and easily accessible to — boys and girls.

“It’s the only sport that I’ve taught where it’s equally as popular with girls and boys. I’ve never had a child who doesn’t like basketball!”

The Hoops 4 Health roadshows take place across the North East with players from Newcastle Eagles’ men’s and women’s teams delivering coaching and teaching healthy living messages to thousands of children every year.

Covid interrupted the nationally renowned programme during 2020 and 2021 but Sam Blake, CEO of the Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation, said: “We’re determined to get things back to normal as soon as possible.

“The regional tournaments have already returned and the finals will be taking place at BBL fixtures throughout the season.

“It was great to see the Sunderland schools at the Vertu Motors Arena and we’re already looking forward to the North Tyneside and Newcastle finals which are next up.”

Sam and Susan Hunter, COO of the Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation, presented the medals and trophies to St Cuthbert’s.

And Suzanne added: “We love everything about Hoops 4 Health. The roadshows encourage the children to focus on all aspects of their health including exercise, food and lifestyle.

“The coaching is so professional, the games are fun and all of our children love taking part.”