The National Interscholastic Cycling Associations (NICA) has arrived in Utah, and though races don't begin until the fall semester, more than 300 students involved in 30 teams across the state have already signed up to ride in sanctioned mountain bike events.
Utah is the latest state chapter in the fast-growing cycling organization and is already setting records for early involvement. A coaches training session nearly doubled the largest previous clinic attendance and student sign up has outpaced other first-year leagues.
"The beauty of the NICA program is that no one rides the bench, everyone rides a bike," said Utah High School Cycling League Director Lori Harward. "We've seen so much enthusiasm from kids, coaches, teachers and parents it's amazing. And not only are these students getting on bikes, but other leagues have seen huge rates of fathers and mothers of these kids take up cycling."
To augment funding from the national NICA office, as well as numerous sponsors and donors in Utah, the new chapter is hosting a fundraising event in the Rice-Eccles Stadium Varsity Room on June 2. "Cyclefest" will feature a cocktail hour and dinner with a program by two-time Olympian and multi-time - and multi-discipline - national champion Todd Wells (Specialized).
Silent and live auctions during the evening will feature everything from complete high-end mountain bikes and entries into some of Utah's most popular - and sold out - races to stays in southern Utah condos and massages.
"It's our first year, but the generosity our donors have shown for high school cycling has been overwhelming," said Harward. "The cycling community in Utah, really the whole Utah community, is so excited about this opportunity for our kids and we're hoping to generate a lot of support for the teams and provide scholarships so everyone who wants to can pick up this life-changing sport."
Scholarships for both individual students and grants for teams are designed to cover entrance fees, assist with the purchase of cycling-specific apparel and provide bikes to students or teams in need.
Founded in 2009 in California and now covering six states and rapidly growing, NICA was created with the core principles of developing strong body, strong mind and strong character through efforts on a bike. Events have divisions for freshman, junior varsity and varsity athletes with top riders qualifying for regional and national championship races. Additional leagues are already scheduled to join the organization, and NICA is aiming for coast-to-coast participation by 2020.
"Here at the NICA office we are amazed by the work Lori and her supporters have done in with the Utah High School Cycling League thus far," said Matt Fritzinger, the executive director of the national NICA organization. "With the support of early sponsors, they conducted a record-setting NICA leaders summit, with over 80 adults in attendance to learn how to best coach high school kids. We're very excited to see all the coaches return with their teams at the opening race. It's bound to be incredible."
The NICA season kicks off on September 8 in Park City's Round Valley and culminates in late October with a state championship race.