BLACK Cats legend Kevin Ball was on hand to present awards to students who have achieved their academic goals.
The former player, who also had a spell as caretaker manager, handed out the accolades at St Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive School and Byron Sixth Form College’s annual awards evening.
More than 160 students from the Peterlee school were honoured.
Headteacher Paul McKenna said it was an emotional night, in which young people were recognised for not only their hard work but also for overcoming personal obstacles.
One Byron student was hailed for overcoming a brain tumour to pass his A-levels and earn a place at Sunderland University.
Mr McKenna said: “It was wonderful to see so many students receiving awards and sharing their celebrations with parents and staff.
“Some of the stories which led to the awards were very moving and at times emotional.
“It clearly demonstrated the courage and perseverance employed in order to overcome difficulties which led to success.
“As a community we were really proud to be able to be celebrating another year of excellence.”
Mr McKenna said Ball was “incredibly popular” with students, with everyone trying to get his autograph and their selfies taken with the former Sunderland captain.
“He was a perfect ambassador for Sunderland FC – when he walked in the hall there was a huge cheer for him,” he said.