Twice a week, around 90 kids with mountain bikes descend on Gateway Park or the Caine Halter YMCA.
They’ve come to practice for Greenville County’s two school-based mountain bike teams, which are open to riders of all skill levels between sixth and 12th grades. The Greenville High team is made up of students who attend Greenville High or its feeder schools; the Greenville Shredders is a composite team of students from across the county.
The teams are part of National Interscholastic Cycling Association, a national mountain biking program with leagues in 31 states. South Carolina’s league currently has 216 registered riders across the state and teams in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill and Anderson as well as Greenville, according to Carin Slader, the league’s board chair.
Part of NICA’s mission is helping kids learn how to be confident in themselves by cycling and getting outside, Slader said.
“You get the kids who don’t traditionally fit in any basketball or football sport and get them on a bike, and it’s amazing how their confidence grows,” said Slader, who also coaches the composite team.
Their season aligns with fall school sports and runs from July to November. Typically, the teams have five cross-country mountain bike races per season, but none have been held this year because of the pandemic.
“You get the kids who don’t traditionally fit in any basketball or football sport and get them on a bike, and it’s amazing how their confidence grows.” Carin Slader, coach
Practices are, however, still being held three times week. Mondays and Wednesdays are spent building skills, while Saturdays are reserved for what Slader calls “adventure rides.”
“We go to places like Issaquena. Sometimes we go to DuPont [State Forest]. Sometimes we go to Pleasant Ridge. It’s more of a fun day,” Slader said.
Masks and social distancing are required at all practices.
“We’ve been very fortunate so far to not have any cases in any of our athletes, and we are planning on keeping it that way,” Slader said.
Despite the pandemic, the teams have seen explosive growth this year.
“We were really fearful that we wouldn’t have many kids, and it’s had the opposite effect,” Slader said. “People are signing up every week. It’s amazing.”
Parents like it, too, because they can come ride with their kids.
“You don’t have to drop your kid off and sit for two hours and then pick them up,” Slader said. “It’s really family based, and it’s very inclusive. And the community that forms is just wonderful.”