By Bob Black-Ocken
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes high school and junior high mountain biking programs in the United States. NICA provides governance, leadership and program support to regional high school mountain biking organizations. NICA's mission is to "develop junior high and high school mountain biking programs for student athletes across the United States."
It started in 1998: Matt Fritzinger wanted to start a road biking team at Berkeley High School. At his first practice, four kids showed up, but they were all riding mountain bikes. Because of this, Matt decided they would become a mountain bike team, the first high school mountain bike team in the country. Over the next six years, mountain biking would continue to grow, eventually leading to the creation of the Second League in Southern California. With the increasing size of the league, it was decided that a management organization of the leagues must be established. From this NICA was born.
In Arkansas, Alan Ley and Kyla Templeton, friends with the dream of teaching students the safe way to ride a bike, organized and started the Arkansas Interscholastic Cycling League in 2015.
After finding out about NICA through Alan, Kyla wanted to know more. A mother of two young boys, she read the first chapter of the NICA handbook and thought, This is the kind of organization I want my kids involved in.
Today, NICA has expanded into 23 states with 24 leagues and over 14,000 student athletes and coaches. In 2016, the Arkansas NICA program had 168 kids, 15 teams and 49 coaches. In 2017, it expanded to 295 kids, 20 teams and 108 coaches. In 2018, Kyla hopes to grow to 400–500 kids, 25 teams and 130 coaches.
The goal of the program is to provide a fun, safe and high-quality mountain biking program for students in grades 6 to 12. With the cooperation of our partners and our sponsors, we provide a first-class mountain bike racing experience. Regardless of ability level, the Arkansas League is committed to providing a safe and positive experience for all student athletes in accordance with NICA’s Five Core Principles: Inclusive, Equal, Strong Body, Strong Mind and Strong Character. In turn, Arkansas’ goal is to create lifelong cyclists who are conscientious, responsible and empowered, according to Kyla Templeton, league director.
The Arkansas League is committed to teaching safe riding practices through fundamental skills training. The high school and junior high teams are the best way for students to learn how to ride safely. To learn safe riding techniques or to learn how to teach these skills, join our next rider camp or coaches’ conference.
NICA is a youth development program on mountain bikes for junior high and high school age student athletes. This includes home schoolers. For many kids, it is an after school program much like any other school club. Some teams consist of kids from just one school, and other teams are composite teams of kids from multiple schools. Teams can practice starting July 1 and typically meet two to or three times a week from then until the race season ends in the beginning of November. Teams often practice in a park or field during the week if there are not trails close to their school. On the weekends, they ride single-track trails across Arkansas.
NICA is a youth development program for junior high- and high-school-age student athletes. This includes homeschoolers. To put it simply, it’s youth development on mountain bikes. For a lot of kids, it’s an after-school program much like the chess club.
The program defines abilities at three levels. A beginner rider with basic skills, an Adventurer rider, and Performance rider. It is not mandatory for the kids to race to participate in the mountain bike team. There are kids on teams who don’t race at all. Each team has needs that don’t require the participant to be on a bike. Like any team, there are equipment managers, mechanics, photographers, and more.
The Arkansas NICA races have a festival atmosphere with student-athletes, parents, coaches, siblings and friends camping out, hanging out, sharing meals and encouraging one another the whole weekend. Students are divided into categories by age and gender for racing and awards. Most of the student athletes love to race, but they don’t all have to win to feel successful. I believe when a student athlete shows up to a start line, he or she has already won the race.