THE district enjoyed a fruitful Commonwealth Games, with local representatives excelling on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Hexham swimmer David Cumberlidge returned home with a silver medal for his success as part of the England men’s 4x100m freestyle quartet.

Emily Large, of Ponteland, reached the 200m butterfly swimming final and Laura Weightman, a North-East runner who previously trained at Hexham’s Wentworth Leisure Centre, earned bronze in her first championship 5,000m.

Hexham’s Chris Bunten was assistant coach as the England women’s basketball team made history by winning silver.

The success is worth celebrating, but is it sustainable, and is there another generation of local stars on the horizon?

Chris Bunten (33) said that while the sport has struggled for funding at the elite level, there is no shortage of opportunity at the grassroots level.

The former pupil of Hexham Middle School and the town’s Queen Elizabeth High School said: “Some sports are more mainstream than others, but in terms of basketball, the North-East is a good place to be.

“The Newcastle Eagles have been the shining beacon for years; they visited Hexham Middle when I was there, and we had the chance to meet and work with the players.

“There are still opportunities to play basketball in schools, but there are also other pathways within the community.

“There are basketball hubs and clubs around the region, and many schools have Lottery-funded basketball hoops installed, which inspire youngsters to give it a go.”

Against all odds, the England women’s basketball team beat Canada in the semi-final of the Commonwealth Games to set up a final against tournament hosts and overwhelming favourites, Australia.

Yet despite picking up a silver medal, elite level basketball is not supported by the funding body UK Sport.

Separate body Sport England, however, does pump money into the game at grassroots level.

Chris added: “All we can do at the elite level is keep striving for success and increase our medal winning potential, and hopefully that will lead to better funding.

“But at grassroots level, the future of the game looks very good.

“In terms of our success with the England women’s team, hopefully it is a good advert for the game we love, and inspires more youngsters to pick up a basketball and give the sport a go.”

Chris previously played basketball for the Teesside Mohawks, Brighton Bears, Worthing Thunder and Bognor Pirates.

He has also coached the Great Britain U20 women’s team, and currently works with athletes in elite sport at Northumbria University.

Former Haydon Bridge High School student Dan MacMillan is currently based at Amberley Primary School in Killingworth, where he is training to become a primary physical education teacher.

He said modern teaching methods enable schools to introduce children to a wide range of sports.

Activities such as invasion games enable one team to attack another’s territory and score a goal or point.

Dan explained: “You might use different techniques in different sports, such as football, rugby, netball or basketball, but the principles of defence and attack are the same.

“We do striking and fielding games, which incorporates cricket, rounders and tri-golf.

“Skills are transferable and by mixing up sessions, you can introduce children to lots of different sports, and they can work out which ones they prefer.

“We also teach dance, gymnastics and athletics. I believe teaching a variety of sports is an effective way of encouraging interest and increasing participation.

“I think youngsters can have a lot of fun learning sport this way.”

The England netball team won gold at the Commonmwealth Games, yet it is also a sport which has also struggled for funding at the elite level.

Dan added: “For younger children, netball is a good sport to learn because it’s less physical than basketball, and you can use it to teach the principles of defence and attack.”

Dan, who completed his sports development course at Northumbria Univesity last year, added: “From my experience of working with children at primary school level, they do take notice of senior sporting success, and are inspired.

“Well done to everyone with local connections who excelled at the Commonwealth Games.

“Their achievements give a lot of encouragement to the next generation.”