Mountain biking gains traction with metro students

Nebraska Interscholastic Cycling League hosts clinic for grades 6-12
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Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 10:43 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A fringe sport in the 1970s, mountain biking has steadily grown in the U.S., even joining the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta.

The kids at the Try Out Mountain Biking event at Swanson Park in Bellevue didn’t seem to care about all that stuff. They’re here to build skills and have fun.

“I love to see it, so many kids, just my age,” 13-year-old Taylor Jarrett said. “Its nice to talk to them, see how long they’ve been mountain biking.”

“Its kind of weird seeing cameras at a bike event cause I don’t really see that (very often),” said 12-year-old Mallory Mosely. “So its kind of cool.”

”The kids are always excited, always fun,” said Papillion Area Composite (PAC) coach Jennifer Greer. “We play bike games to help learn skills, you know you’re learning all the things you need to know to be able to ride on the trails safely and efficiently and you’re having fun while you’re doing it.”

The event is a call to the course for boys and girls from grades 6 through 12 by the grown ups who started the Nebraska Interscholastic Cycling League (NICL). The organization started in 2019, looking to promote the sport and develop teams at area schools and cities, and build a competitive network to grow the support.

”The last couple of years with the pandemic, there’s just been a need for kids to be outdoors and more active,” said NICL executive director Bree Campbell. “(We founded NICL as) an organization that is more focused on youth development and not necessarily on competition or performance.”

Eleven teams are listed on the NICL website, several from the Omaha metro as well as Lancaster County, Norfolk and Des Moines. As of 2022, they are one of 31 Project Leagues under the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.

The trails at Swanson Park served as the Try Out Mountain Biking classroom, with newcomers learning the basics of mountain biking, as well as a proving ground for students interested in joining a mountain bike team.

Taylor Jarrett comes from a mountain biking family so he’s been on the trails for more than half his life.

”I like to have fun, enjoy my race, try my best, and it works out in the end,” Taylor said.

The Fall 2022 competition season begins in August with a race in Blair and ends in October in Raymond. Teams often have fundraiser events and races to help cover costs. For example, Millard West hosts the third annual Tranquility 50 at Tranquility Park in Omaha Saturday.

Competitions give athletes the chance to be a part of a team and work on improving their personal times, but the league’s coaches say there’s more to NICL.

”There’s zero tryouts, and it takes zero experience to get started,” said Joseph Collins, coach for Southeast Metro Area Composite (SMAC). “It’s 100% inclusive. There’s no bench, there’s no sitting out, you ride as much, as hard, as often as you want, and when you want to peel back and just do the fun stuff, you do that, too.”

“There is the competitive piece to that, but we also have the adventure side for the kids that don’t want to do the competitive stuff,” Collins said. “but it doesn’t matter which track they take, they take away the skill set to ride a bike, and they carry that with them.”

NICL officials also point out the league strives to be inclusive. Events like Try Out Mountain Biking are free.

“We have a fleet for kids to use during events like this one,” Greer said. “We also have bikes that can be basically checked out for the season to use if they don’t have their own bike, and they don’t have the means to get one. There’s also scholarships available, for kids to join the league if they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

There was a time about 125 years ago when Omaha was a hub for the growing world of bicycle racing, competing at the Charles Street Cycle Park. Now mountain biking trails are created, groomed and maintained, usually by volunteers at places like Swanson Park, Tranquility Park, Black Elk Park, Maskenthine Lake Recreation Area and Branched Oak Area 7 in eastern Nebraska.

“You don’t have another sport out there that builds and maintains the area in which they go practice or they go ride,” Collins said. “That’s unique to us as mountain bikers.”

“We’re here to get kids on bikes,” Campbell said. “We’re here to have fun and we’re here to show kids that they can feel empowered and they can feel a part of something and we use the power of two wheels to do it.”

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