Getting Schooled: How Mountain Biking is Growing Into an Official High School Sport

Spencer Miller | CycleCycle
photo courtesy of Grand Targhee Resort
A little Idaho high school racing action.  Photo courtesy of Grand Targhee Resort.  

In the ten years following the turn of the millennium, the percentage of American kids on bikes from the ages of 7-17 decreased by a whopping 21 percent… Thanks, Pokemon.  But before Pikachu could steal the souls of more children, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (commonly known as NICA) was founded in 2009.

Since then, NICA has implemented cycling leagues in 18 different states, and is exponentially booming from year to year.  Executive director Austin McInery called their expansion “explosive,” growing 43 percent alone from 2015-2016.  And his hopes are high for continued success, as “Some of the leagues are seeing more in the 7th- and 8th-grade fields than in the older ones. I’m calling that the tip of the iceberg. I think it could grow even quicker if we found more adults who wanted to step up and run those teams.”  

 Photo courtesy of Star Tribune.
Two racers going at it in Mankato, Minnesota.  Photo courtesy of Star Tribune.

But finding volunteer coaches can be difficult, and is one of the reasons the league is not quite at the top of its climb yet.  The other major obstacle is expense, which is estimated at $1,275 and $2,275 per student (depending on how pricey the bike is).  To compensate, some scholarships are offered while other loaner programs are being worked on right now.  But despite these challenges, NICA expects around 18,000 athletes by 2020 (compared to 480,000 in high school cross country, for example).  Not bad for a sport that will only have hit schools a decade prior.  

So next time you see a high-schooler dust you on the climb, try not to curse under your breath, and encourage them instead cause you’ll be supporting a great cause of getting kids back on bikes.   


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