ASHLAND — Riding a mountain bike is now an extracurricular activity for young people in Ohio and Ashland Bike Company has jumped into the saddle to build a team of shredders.
Starting July 1, young riders from the region will have the opportunity to ride with and against peers from across the state through Ohio’s first National Interscholastic Cycling Association league.
Ashland’s team, dubbed Team WILD, is one of 13 around Ohio formed this year for middle and high school students. But riders don’t have to attend Ashland schools, said Ashley Hendershot, one of the team’s coaches and organizers.
“They can come from anywhere — Mansfield, Ashland, Wooster. Anybody from anywhere can come join the team,” she said.
With five riders on Team WILD so far, Hendershot is looking for more to join the squad.
The season begins July 1, with practices at Brookside West and Freer Field every Tuesday and Thursday. Races will take place in August, September and October. Racing is not mandatory, she said. The team’s first practice will be July 5.
Joining the team costs $100. The price include race entry fees, a team jersey, a number plate and other miscellaneous supplies. To find out more, parents and athletes are encouraged to participate in Ashland Bike Company’s NICA informational event at 6:30 p.m. June 16.
“It’ll just be a night to show parents how to sign their kids up. We’re trying to recruit kids to get them interested,” Hendershot said.
Being part of the team isn’t limited to being a student, Hendershot said. Team WILD also needs volunteers and coaches.
There are currently five coaches, but volunteers are welcome, she said.
“The more the merrier,” she said.
Team WILD is part of Ashland Bike Project, a nonprofit focused on getting young people on bicycles. The name is an acronym for the organization’s core values: “Wellness lifestyle, Inspire others, Learn new things and Determined to succeed.”
It aligns with Jen Malik’s vision for the sport.
Malik, a pro mountain bike racer based out of Columbus, serves as the executive director for NICA’s Ohio Mountain Bike League.
Malik helped organize state’s first NICA league in late 2020, but that this summer marks the first season. She has been working to launch the league for two years.
“I discovered cycling later in life,” she said. “But when I started here in the Columbus area, everyone was very welcoming and I kept hearing about NICA.”
She looked into it and when she discovered its ability to offer children a community doing something she’d grown to love, she was hooked. She earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from The Ohio State University in 2018.
“When I finished, I thought, ‘Well, I have a lot of free time now. So I should be the person to organize it here,’” Malik said.
The state’s first interscholastic league for mountain biking currently has around 120 riders across its 13 teams.
“It’s an amazing experience to see so many kids make connections with each other and bikes,” she said. “I know cycling helped me grow as an athlete, but also as a person.
"I’m excited to give this opportunity to kids to form those relationships.”