Mountain Biking

Ross County youth mountain bike team gearing up for its first year – Chillicothe Gazette


CHILLICOTHE — Middle and high school students are invited to participate in a new opportunity that lets them test their endurance and experience Ross County off-road.

It’s been a two-year effort to start up a National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) league in Ohio and now for the first time ever, a composite mountain bike team has been launched in Ross County. The goal of the league is to build strong minds, bodies and communities through cycling.

“If you can ride a bike, you can do this,” said Ross County Coach Heather Lawhorn. She’s also the treasurer for Ohio Mountain Bike League — the state emergent league under NICA. “We’re going to meet kids where they’re at.”

Everybody rides — that’s the approach of NICA and the Ross County league. It doesn’t matter a student’s gender or skill level, anyone in grades six through 12 is encouraged to join the team. Lawhorn said that the goal is for kids to have fun and learn new skills.

Unlike city racing which takes place in close quarters at 25 miles per hour, mountain biking requires a different skill set. It’s slower, and it requires more balance and control over the bike.

To start, participants will practice in an open field to gain experience riding off the pavement. There they’ll learn how to handle their bike and coaches can begin assessing riders’ skills. Risk management and safety are also emphasized at this time.

“There is so much to learn before you hit the trails,” Lawhorn said.

Once riders have a solid foundation, they’ll meet with the coaches to prepare for their first event this fall. At this time, there are 25 kids signed up for the team. Eventually, Lawson and Chillicothe Trails President Ty McBee hope each school will form its own team.

But until one school has seven members, youth from Ross County will compete as one. The composite team is an advantage for young riders because it allows them to get practice before the competition grows. To push inclusivity, the NICA structure in Ohio drops the team’s lowest score because it encourages more kids to get on bikes and learn.

Bringing NICA to Ross County was one of the main goals for Chillicothe Trails in 2021, according to McBee, and he’s excited to show off the new NICA-certified Paint Creek Mountain Bike trail. 

On May 16, there will be an initial bike check where parents can ensure they have the right equipment for their child. There are six preseason events including a skills lab, bike maintenance, bike yoga, trail cleanup and a fun ride near Paint Creek. Practices start July 1.

There are four races scheduled this year at John Bryan State Park, Baileys Trail System, Chestnut Ridge Metro Park and Camp Tuscazoar.

The Ohio Mountain Bike League and the Ross County team are also in need of coaches and volunteers. There are no skills required and no experience is necessary. For more information please visit ohiomtb.org, chillicothetrails.org or call/text 740-701-1657.

Have a story tip or comment? Contact Toria at tbarnhart@gannett.com or 740-349-1106. Follow her on Twitter @ToriaBarnhart.