A HOST of young northern sports stars have got behind a new programme giving youths the chance to excel in athletic professions.

Sunderland Ladies FC player Steph Bannon and Newcastle Falcons and England under 20s rugby player Zach Kibirige were among those attending the launch of the BTEC Level 3 in Sport programme run by Gateshead College and Darlington Mowden Park RFC.

Darlington-based boxing brothers Travis and Jon-Lewis Dickinson - who are both champions in their weight - have also backed the course which gives teenagers the chance to stay in post-16 education and use world class training facilities to gain a professional qualification in sport.

The course comprises of practical sessions, workshops, seminars and more, and is based at the Women’s Football, Amateur Boxing and Rugby Union Academies at the Northern Echo Arena in Darlington.

It will provide a platform for progression to either higher education or into employment within the sports industry, health and fitness sector, sports development or sports coaching fields.

Lewis Pendleton, manager of Gateshead College’s Academy for Sport, said: “There is a lot of demand in the south of the region for a sports performance centre.

"We therefore want to ensure students are helped to fulfil their potential by providing the same opportunities and access to excellence that those on Tyneside enjoy.”