Minds of MTB meeting in Eagle
EAGLE — The National Interscholastic Cycling League started in California about a decade ago with a goal to get more teenagers on bikes. At that time, it was more of a club than an organization, meeting after school and on the weekends.
Seven years ago, the association got serious and launched interscholastic programs in California and Colorado, making cross-country mountain biking a high school sport similar to cross-country running. But it took off more like a sprinter — after starting with two states and a few hundred kids, it is now up to 18 states and 10,000 student participants.
In 2014, the organization recognized Yuri Kostick, then the mayor of Eagle, with a community impact award for all he had done for the organization in Eagle, which hosts Colorado’s state championship race.
“It was at that time when we really took notice of Eagle,” said Austin McInerny, the association’s executive director.
The association’s board visited town during the state championships that year and decided to hold their annual conference here this year. Flash forward to today, the conference is underway with more than 70 representatives from 18 states riding bikes, eating at local restaurants and attending seminars in town.
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Alabama league director Eddie Freyer had never been to Eagle before this week.
“Coming to a city like Eagle and seeing what y’all are doing here is awesome,” he said. “I brought my 8-year-old son with me and to see him jump on his bike, cruise through town safely and get on a trail network right from town is amazing. Looking at communities that are embracing trails and mountain biking, seeing that and understanding the impact that it can have on a city is a definitely a message to take back home.”
The organization’s focus is simple — get more kids on bikes and make mountain biking a true interscholastic sport.
“But honestly, I don’t care if these kids race their bikes past high school,” McInerny said. “We have a huge obesity problem in this country, attention deficit disorder is being diagnosed in kids left and right, so if can we help teenagers find something that they like doing, that’s healthy, that puts them into contact with others in a positive way, then we need to be figuring that out as a society. Mountain biking is a tool that serves all those needs.”
While the focus is kids, a number of side impacts have been realized by adults, which was an unintended consequence of the program that is now being embraced through events such as the annual conference.
“Not only is our student population growing quickly, but the number of adult coaches going through our program has skyrocketed,” McInerny said. “We have over 3,500 coaches that have gone through our training program. So not only is our program benefiting students, it’s allowing adults in the community — some of them who have been riding bikes their whole lives — a way to use that experience to create meaningful mentor relationships with students. So we’re seeing people say ‘You mean I can play a meaningful role in running this club, and spend more time with my son or daughter while getting healthy myself? Where do I sign up?’”
‘A HUGE IMPACT IN COMMUNITIES’
Family involvement in the National Interscholastic Cycling League has spurred overall community involvement, with Eagle and its state championship mountain biking race, held every October on the town’s Haymaker trail, being a prime example.
“It’s having a huge impact in communities,” McInerny said. “What Eagle has done around biking and hosting the state championship — it’s during a time of year when the hotels are pretty much empty — all these people come to town and it’s good for business.”
Last year, approximately 600 students raced in the Colorado state championships. They brought with them to Eagle a bevy of coaches, trainers, parents, grandparents and siblings. Amy Cassidy with the town of Eagle said the impact has spread beyond that October race into weekends like this one.
“Our local businesses have really embraced the Colorado League and high school mountain bike racing in general and are so excited to see all the conference attendees in town,” she said. “NICA has done a great job keeping all their meals and lodging local, and bike shops from Eagle to Vail are providing bike demos. Bonfire Brewing is the conference beer sponsor and Dusty Boot and Roadhouse Hospitality continue their incredible support of high school mountain biking by hosting their conference at SimpatiCOworking on Saturday and their celebration dinner Saturday night.”
Learn more about the National Interscholastic Cycling League by visiting http://www.nationalmtb.org.