Interested in mountain bike racing? Meeting for youth team set for Oct. 5
Published 12:02 am Saturday, September 24, 2022
SALISBURY — In early 2023, the Rowan Rockhounds will begin a new season of youth mountain bike racing within the North Carolina Interscholastic Cycling League (NCICL).
The Rockhounds will host a meeting for all prospective team members on Oct. 5 at 6:15 pm at The Pedal Factory, 311 East Council St. The meeting is open to anyone who would like to learn more about the team, the NCICL and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). It will focus on sharing information about the upcoming season and how to register for the team. Tryouts are not necessary; any student in grades 6-12 in Rowan County is welcome to join the Rockhounds. Team practice will begin in December, and registration opens mid-October. An ability to ride a bike is required, but experience on the trails is not a prerequisite. Individual skill building is the main focus of the season, rather than competition.
Started in 2019 by Skinny Wheels Bike Shop owner Eric Phillips, the Rowan Rockhounds returned to riding and racing in 2022 after two canceled seasons due to COVID. The Rockhounds are part of NICA, a national organization dedicated to providing youth mountain biking opportunities, which has grown to include leagues in nearly every state.
All students in grades 6-12 attending Rowan County schools are eligible to join the Rockhounds. The Rowan team is a composite team, meaning students attend various schools in the county. Last season, the team had about 10 athletes practicing and racing regularly. Several of the students were completely new to mountain biking. The league encourages new riders and focuses on confidence building, skill development and the values of equity and inclusion.
Mary Rosser, executive director of the Pedal Factory, will take over Phillips’ role as head coach of the Rockhounds this year. She has been working to fund the team through grants and scholarships in order to make it accessible to all students who wish to join.
“I see tremendous value in getting students active and out in nature,” said Rosser. “We have a wonderful asset here in our hometown with the Salisbury Community Park (SCP) trails, where the Rockhounds practice and the NCICL hosts a race weekend.”
In April 2022, hundreds of families came to Salisbury to enjoy the mountain biking opportunities at NICA’s race. “It really put our park on people’s radars as a destination for riding,” Rosser said of the race.
The team has a secondary focus of helping to maintain and preserve the trails for all, and assisted on several trail work days. Salisbury’s mountain biking trails hold tremendous opportunities for our youth, Rosser believes. “As a lifelong recreational activity, mountain biking really helps young people grow into healthy, confident adults who care about protecting our natural areas,” she added. Beyond their time riding the trails, Rockhounds members helped with the installment of the newest trail at SCP, the Green Briar beginner loop. Rockhound Josh Douthit also built a bridge connecting two trails at the park as part of an Eagle Scout project.
Mountain biking is an expensive sport owing to the cost of specialized bikes, safety gear and maintenance. To help defray costs, the Rockhounds were awarded a $5,000 matching grant from the Outride Fund, which empowers communities to launch youth cycling initiatives. Currently, just over half the goal has been raised. Presenting sponsors include Skinny Wheels Bike Shop and Consolidated Truck Parts. Major sponsors include AudraMatic Cleaning and Bebe’s Tire Service. When the $5,000 goal has been met, the Outride Fund will match the goal, providing $10,000 in total funds for the team for the season.
“The funds will cover league fees, team uniforms and equipment,” Rosser said. “As many on the team need this help to participate, it’s crucial we make the goal this year.” Sponsors will be highlighted on team apparel and given advertising visibility at events. Donations are tax deductible and go directly to support team needs.
The benefits, says Rockhounds team member Sergio Bamaca-Diaz, are worth the investment.
Bamaca-Diaz joined the Rowan Rockhounds as a beginner in 2021. His experience was limited to riding a basic bike between school and home every day.
However, as someone who struggled to find his place in high school sports, he was drawn to checking out the team upon hearing about it from Aleiah Martin, a former Rockhound.
He saved his money to buy a second-hand GT mountain bike that was more trail worthy than his commuter. He found that riding the trails helped lift him out of a lingering depression and boost his self-confidence. Bamaca-Diaz, along with three other riders, is under consideration for a Trek NICA Pathfinders scholarship this season, which would provide him with a new bike, gear and league fees.
The Trek NICA Pathfinders scholarship brings greater diversity, equity and inclusion to youth mountain biking by providing people of color with the bikes, gear, and resources they need to overcome historical barriers to the sport.
Since 2021, they have received more than 500 individual applications from student athletes representing 97 teams from over 26 states, and after an intense review process, we awarded 250 of those applicants with Pathfinder Scholarships. Athletes of color and Hispanic populations are largely underrepresented in sports like mountain biking, and the Trek scholarship helps remove barriers to entry.
“We invite everyone interested in mountain biking to meet with us at 6:15 pm on Oct. 5 at The Pedal Factory,” Rosser noted. “You could be opening the door to a healthier life with new friends!”
To learn more, contact Mary Rosser by email at [email protected] or by calling 704-870-7145.