Encouraging young people to become more involved in sports is something most school districts say they are committed to doing, but many of these same districts are leaving behind kids who lack interest or ability in traditional school sports such as basketball, baseball/softball or football. While cycling isn’t generally considered to be a school-based sport, some states have tried to change this and launch mountain biking youth groups to embrace strong and growing interest in the sport. Massachusetts is the latest to try a school-based mountain biking initiative.
In the Bay State, local mountain biking enthusiasts are working to build a high school mountain biking league, according to the Boston Herald. Organizers say that aside from a few isolated leagues in Maine, the sport is highly underrepresented in New England schools, despite popularity with many young people and the existence of numerous private groups. Advocates say the new league would be represented by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) rather than the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high school athletics.
“Our goal is to make cycling a legitimate, mainstream high school sport,” Austin McInerny, executive director of the non-profit NICA, told the Herald.
The NICA reports that since it was first formed in California in 2009, its membership has grown by 40 percent each year. It now governs 15 leagues with more than 5,000 student-athletes nationwide. While mountain biking is wildly popular in the Western U.S., it has been slower to grow at the school level in the east, particularly the densely populated northeast. To date, New York and Pennsylvania are the only eastern state with established youth mountain biking leagues.
If chosen, Massachusetts would receive $25,000 from NICA, in addition to a commitment to raise $10,000 independently, to start the league, according to the Herald. The program is being spearheaded by Massachusetts parents who are also mountain bike enthusiasts. Proponents claim that, unlike traditional school team sports, everybody participates, which is an upside to mountain biking. And though it’s often considered an individual sport, formal school leagues can help participants play and compete as a team.
Across the country, USA Cycling also maintains an interscholastic league program – though it’s offered only at the high school level – and enables participating students to compete for their schools against students from other schools in their area. The group offers different variations that fall under the general cycling umbrella, including road racing, fat bikes (snow biking) and mountain biking.