What if mountain biking wasn’t something you did after high school, but something you did as part of school, for credit? And what if a lack of money wasn’t a hindrance to participation?
In New Jersey, these thoughts are becoming reality.
Patty Woodworth, a NICA coach and team director, recently set up the state’s first high school team at Clearview Regional High in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. She’s been surprised by how not only the high schoolers responded, but their parents as well.
“A lot of these kids want to do something, but everyone is so heavily geared toward team-based sports,” Woodworth says. “With mountain biking, you can do this and be a winner, and do it all on your own … but at the same time, have practice and friends that you share a common bond with.”
The high school team practices with the local NICA league, as they build fitness and hone their climbing, descending, and cornering skills.
Finding coaches was easier than Woodworth thought; parents she thought wouldn’t have the time instead opted to sign up and coach, riding alongside their kids.
“We have six or seven parents that learn with the kids, instantly making this a family sport. As parents, especially those with kids that don’t show interest in team sports, they’re not on the sidelines; it’s a participation thing, a unique bond.”
With the high school program, she also wanted to ensure that anyone who wants to ride can ride — whether they have a bike or not. With a loaner bike program in place, as well as select need-based scholarships, students can participate in the program at low to no cost.
“If our kids qualify for free lunches, they qualify to ride with us,” Woodworth says. “It’s that simple.”
Now, there are other New Jersey public school teams in operation, thanks to the path Woodworth provided. “It’s pretty exciting, with the league director using our team as a model. We hope we’re setting a good tone for it.”
Woodworth’s next goals? Get the riders Physical Education credit for their participation, as well as a school trail built on campus, allowing for before-class ride sessions. “Studies have found kids with ADHD are able to focus better in class,” Woodworth says. “It’s a great way to get kids off medication that is so quickly prescribed these days. The guy who helped me start this team is the PE teacher, and we’re definitely working on a curriculum.”
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