Around this time next year, high schools around Alabama will be adding a new sport to their already robust athletic programs. In a state where stick-and-ball sports have a near-religious following, this sport presents a new venue for high school boys and girls to compete individually and as a team in a sport they can do well past graduation: Mountain biking.
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association recently announced that Alabama will be the 13th state in the nation to launch a NICA league. A national non-profit organization, NICA supports local leagues in developing programs, races, and events that get kids on bikes. The organization views racing as a youth development program that promotes its 5 core principals: Inclusivity, Equality, Strong Body, Strong Mind, and Strong Character.
Full disclosure: Eddie Freyer, RootsRated contributor, is the new director of the Alabama NICA league. “I believe it can make Alabama a healthier, happier state. The first day at my first high school race was the clincher; I knew I had to be part of this,” says Freyer. “The atmosphere is totally different from other school sports. It's hard to fully appreciate how powerful this movement is until you’ve stood there at the starting line. Some of these kids, you can see a transformation occur right before your eyes.”
Slated to launch in the spring of 2015, Alabama joins Tennessee (Fall 2013) and Georgia (Fall 2014) in creating a high school mountain bike league. This creates an opportunity for regional championships and tri-state competitions, and the league directors of all three states are already discussing these possibilities.
Announced at the largest bike race in the country, The Sea Otter Classic in Monterrey, Calif, Alabama’s news started people buzzing throughout the state and the bicycle industry. A big part of the splash was the Alabama Park System’s vocal support for the new program— a big deal, considering the restrictions and bans on mountain biking in other state park systems.
“Alabama has become a role model for outdoor education in the USA,” says NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny. “The Alabama State Parks are to be commended for their forward-thinking approach, and their constructive relationship with the high school cycling league is something we hope will be noticed by other states. This is a great way for state governmental organizations to actively promote healthy lifestyles, productivity and community awareness among youth populations.”
This program ties in well with what is happening across the state right now in regard to mountain biking and the development of our cycling culture and infrastructure. Local places like Oak Mountain , Coldwater Mountain and Tannehill State Park have all jumped on the mountain biking band wagon, and building trails and mountain bike infrastructure that is attracting nationwide press and attention. Having these trails in our backyard bodes well for the kids who want to participate in the new NICA league.
For more information about forming a team and getting involved, visit www.alabamamtb.org.