Group exploring the formation of MTB club for cycling league

BUCKHANNON — A youth mountain biking team could be trekking through Upshur County later this year.

Matt Bennett, owner of Fat Tire Cycle and Adventure Supply, said he is interested in starting a team in Buckhannon, where he owns his business, and Lewis County, where he resides with his family.

“For me, mountain biking has been an outlet that I could do my whole life,” he said. “Team sports end for most kids in high school. Team sports ended for me in high school. I started mountain biking in college. I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years. It’s something kids can take with them their whole life. It puts you outside and give you an appreciation for the natural world and gives you a respect for nature and understanding that it is important to preserve.”

Bennett said he would be looking for coaches and volunteers, and envisions the team operating independently at first through fundraising and sponsors.

“We will need a lot of volunteers to help with the kids,” he said.

Anyone interested in getting involved locally should contact Bennett at Fat Tire Cycle at 304-472-5882.

Some cycling teams across the country have become school-sponsored.

“We will be in touch with the schools as time goes on to see what their interest is in purchasing equipment to help facilitate and cover some of the costs for the kids,” Bennett said.

On Sunday evening, Fat Tire Cycle and Miss Piggies sponsored an information session for the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League.

League director Cassie Smith presented an overview of The National Interscholastic Association, a youth development organization that promotes mountain bike racing for sixth through 12th graders.

The association formed in 2009 and now has 22 leagues in 21 states with 15,000-plus student-athletes and nearly 800 teams as of 2017.

Smith was instrumental in starting the West Virginia association but said she could not have done it by herself without a core group of people.

“We want to fill the niche for students who don’t really like football, basketball, baseball and all that,” she said. “We want to get kids outside and get them off electronics.”

The West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League has its season in September and October. The league had a choice of spring and fall and went with fall due to the unpredictable spring weather, according to Smith.

Two races have already been made official: Sept. 8-9 at Black Bear and Oct. 22 at North Bend.

A leaders’ summit is planned for March at North Bend State Park, where people can learn how to start — and coach — a local team.

Between April 1 and July 1, teams are allowed to have up to six events to begin getting organized and then full practice can begin July 1.

Middle school will be separated by grades for competition, and then at the high school level, freshmen, sophomore, jayvee and varsity teams will compete.

“We went to the Pennsylvania series last fall,” Smith said. “The middle school classes were really big with 50 to 60 in each — sixth, seventh and eighth grade.”

The high school groups weren’t quite as big, but Smith noted a lot of high school students are established in other sports already.

For those who aren’t, mountain biking could be their niche, according to Smith.

“We make mountain bikers out of anyone,” she said. “We just want to get you out there. It’s about kids who don’t really have a sport. Our focus is on youth development. There are no team tryouts and no cuts.”

Coaches do not need to have mountain bike experience, just a willingness to learn and work with kids. Training will be required.

“West Virginia is the heart of mountain biking,” she said. “We need to have this here for our youth.”

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