The Hoops4Health initiative was launched in 2000 with the aim of using basketball as a means of providing a healthy living programme through professional sporting role models from the Eagles’ team.
Since its launch, one of most successful participants has been St Bede’s RC Primary School in South Shields.
The school recently lifted the 2022 South Tyneside Hoops4Health trophy to make it through to the regional finals. The players now face the tantalising prospect of playing in front of a large crowd at an upcoming Eagles’ fixture.
PE teacher Brian McVittie said: “I like the fact that it’s a mixed gender competition. When it comes to playing basketball at primary age the pupils have a similar starting point regardless of whether they’re boys or girls.
“If it was football, for instance, even at this age some of the boys would be so physically dominant that it just wouldn’t work. But in basketball the female players make a positive difference.
“Boys and girls can play safely together. They also learn about healthy living and a sense of pride in their community.
“The Hoops4Health tournaments bring so many different schools and different communities together. They have a huge reach and have always been so inclusive.”
The South Tyneside tournament saw five schools and 17 teams from across the borough head north of the Tyne to compete at the Eagles’ Vertu Motors Arena (VMA).
Teams from St Bede’s, Stanhope Primary, Biddick Hall and Forest View made it through to the final fours to guarantee a return trip to the VMA on a Newcastle Eagles’ match night.
However, equally as important for Brian has been seeing the positive influence the initiative has had on the children’s health and outlook.
He said: “We’ve had children at St Bede’s who started playing basketball through Hoops4Health and they’ve kept it up as a hobby throughout their school life.
“Others have joined local clubs and some have graduated into the Eagles Academy. It’s fantastic when you see a former pupil still playing the game 10 or 15 years later.
“When the Eagles players visit St Bede’s, our children are in awe of them. It carries far more weight as far as they’re concerned when a professional athlete advises them on how to eat well, live well and play together as a team.
“The Eagles players eat the right things, look after themselves, don’t smoke and they get to do a job they love. They’re genuine role models and have a significant impact on our pupils.
“When they hand out tickets and encourage the children to come along to the VMA, you can see the excitement in the pupils’ eyes — on a match night seeing really is believing.”
The North East wide initiative sees Newcastle Eagles’ men’s and women’s players visit schools as part of roadshows to promote both the sport and healthy lifestyles.
Brian added: “The Eagles Community Foundation plays a key role at the heart of the North East community and what they have achieved with Hoops4Health underlines their excellent work.
“After the last two years our pupils were just so pleased to be playing basketball again.