Charlottesville, Albemarle County High Schools Offer Mountain Biking
Charlottesville-Albemarle County is the first community in Virginia to have a mountain bike team at every public high school.
ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville-Albemarle County is the first community in Virginia to have a mountain bike team at every public high school.
While mountain biking is not a recognized league sport for high school students in the commonwealth, nearly 30 teams compete throughout the state.
The Charlottesville and Albemarle County teams are ranked in the top half.
The first mountain bike team in Virginia got its start at Monticello High School (MHS) four years ago. Since then Albemarle, Western and Charlottesville high schools have used Monticello’s model to convince their athletic directors to approve teams.
"We're really lucky here. A lot of my friends that bike, they're from up in DC and Northern Virginia, Maryland, and everything we've got here... whenever they come here and ride, they're always super blown away by the terrain," said MHS student Kyle Little.
Mountain biking also serves as an outlet for athletes who may not enjoy traditional sports.
"A lot of our mountain bikers are probably more in shape than the average football player, I'd say," MHS student Saben Slotboom said.
"What we like to say is strong body, strong mind,” said Charlottesville High School Mountain Bike Coach Joe Hoskins.
The physical activity and skill training that comes with mountain biking is carrying over to the classroom. MHS Head Coach Sam Lindblom says he's seen the sport's impact on one of his riders who has a learning disability.
"When we don't have practice or there's not a race, he comes home and homework is tough, focusing is hard, and he really struggles with doing well. But with regular exercise, his parents report that he's able to focus and he's able to get his work done, and his work quality is much higher," said the coach.
Since mountain biking isn't a league sport, the teams are not funded by the school system. Instead, they rely on donations to defray the costs of equipment, team gear, and competition fees.
"Each team has a different group of sponsors and these are community individuals who give us money, and we put their names on our jerseys on our letterhead," explained Albemarle High School Mountain Bike Coach Eliza Holland.
The sport, while more popular among male students, is for females too. And there's a spot for riders of all skill levels.
"We have a couple of riders who really want to win and they want to be on the podium, and they hit it hard at every single race. And then we have a fair number of students who just like to be out there with their friends and enjoy the day and the whole race vibe," Holland said.
The riders say they're thankful for the coaches who fought to bring mountain biking to their schools and for their fellow riders who have become family.
"My teammates are definitely more than friends to me," Saben said.
The coaches say it's likely every middle school in the city and county will have a mountain biking team in the next few years.