A friend of a friend recently connected us to the Team Director and Coach of the Lincoln High School Mountain Bike Team. It is a pretty rad story how they formed and a testament to how hungry students are for something like NICA. It is also telling of the wildfire like growth of cycling that we are experiencing in our region. If you follow this website then you are well aware of all the good things that come from bicycles, being in the outdoors and involved in the community. But starting a student mountain bike team doesn’t come without challenges. We checked in with Coach Wayne Jones to find out more about their story. Inspiring stuff. Check it!
OCA: How did your first season racing in the Arkansas NICA League go?
Wayne: I would break our first season into two phases… clueless … and clued in Coach.
The LHS team formed rather haphazardly. Three freshmen boys found out about “a mountain bike race” a few days before the first race of the series in Siloam Springs. The three boys and their parents (me and my wife included) showed up for the pre-race ride in Siloam Springs completely caught off guard how large and organized the event was. We spent that first day standing in the hot sun, rather envious of the sprawling tents and set-ups the established teams had going.
On the way home, we stopped by a store and purchased an event tent. That evening, I dragged out old boxes of extra bike tools, parts, gloves, tubes, helmets, random jerseys, water bottles, and a 15-year old maintenance stand… anything I could think of that would benefit our boys on race day. As “seasoned“ riders, we all know that box of stuff we just can’t part with… well, my bike-stuff-hoarding finally had a good use. On race day, we weren’t going to be sitting in the sun hoping something doesn’t break; we were going to be prepared.
Even though they didn’t break any records that first race, the riders enjoyed every minute and finished the course – they were hooked! We decided that day that we were going to go all in and fully form a team. As I had previous experience in racing, I volunteered as the Coach and started the process with Kyla Templeton’s guidance.
Now that I had a clue, race two of the series went off a bit more organized for our team – we even had some school-made jerseys to wear. In addition, we had added two more boys to the team for race two. By the time the third race rolled around, we had a total of six riders in the freshman and sophomore waves. In a matter of a few weeks we had doubled the size of our team and organized a parent-based support group.
Each pre-ride and race, the riders improved their lap and overall times. By the end of the season, we placed 12th overall in the league. Twelfth may not seem like an amazing feat, however due to the timing of when we found out about the league and the time it takes to be covered by NICA insurance, we never even had an organized practice! All skills training and endurance was developed during pre-races and on race day. It wasn’t until two days before the State Championships that we received our insurance letter authorizing practices. So, much of this season’s outcome was our kids’ natural ability on the bike. With training and instruction, next season we’ll be amazing!
Another aspect of our team, has been our composition. During the 2017 series, we were an all boy team. For 2018 we are making a big emphasis on getting #MoreGirlsOnBikes! Throughout the 2017 series, our boys saw the major impact girls on the team can have in overall standings. While it’s somewhat selfish, the boys recognize that the race points the girls bring to the standings are critical to moving up in the finishes. Even if this recognition is based on point-contribution, I think that is part of NICA’s intent in ensuring representation of girls on a team. The desire for team points ensures the boys help recruit girls and support them throughout the season, which leads to expanded inclusivity, equality, and a one-team mindset regardless of gender.
OCA: How do you think riding bikes and competing in mountain bike races will impact your students?
Wayne: I see the impact on our riders in terms of expanding horizons and opportunities. We’ve adopted the NICA core principles of inclusiveness, equality, and strong bodies, minds and character; however, we’ve also expanded upon them. Leadership, teamwork, and community are part of our mission. Leadership comes in the way of mentoring new riders in the Club. We plan to have two groups of riders, the competitive team and a riding club. The Club is more focused on essential mountain biking skills and maintaining a safe bike, casual participation in trail rides, supporting the team, camaraderie, health, and fitness. Club riders can also compete at races if they wish, and are encouraged to attend a race or race at least once during the season to “try it out”. As team members, our riders are leaders in the Club to provide guidance and to “pass it on” to future riders.
While mountain bike racing is at it’s core an individualized sport, we focus on team standings, group encouragement, and comradery. In fact, we travel to and from races as a team, we camp at events as a team, and eat as a team whenever possible. At the series race in Barling, four of our racers camped out with us and experienced the midnight arrival of 64mph straight line winds, which no doubt will be a loooong lasting memory. Our tents and gear took a beating that evening, but due to our preparations nothing was lost. The race didn’t take place due to the substantial damage that the infield received, however it was an unforgettable bonding experience.
Lincoln is a small community and has a strong community mindset. Most of our team is involved with various community service programs, however we are expanding that mindset to include the mountain biking community. Lincoln Lake MTB Trails are located near by and serve as our “home trail” system. In the coming year we will be expanding our commitment to supporting the trail system. Likewise, members of our team and parents have volunteered at several of the NICA races to help set-up the infield and trail takedown. Race event volunteering also builds league fellowship, as riders interact and work with other teams’ riders throughout the morning preparing the field. Event volunteering even paid off materially to one of our riders, who won an Orbea Alma as a result of serving the MTB community.
OCA: What are the challenges you face sustaining and growing your team?
Wayne: While Lincoln is just 13 miles west of Fayetteville, it seems a lot of people in NWA aren’t even aware of the town of Lincoln. The town of Lincoln has a population of around 2,400, however the Lincoln Consolidated School District encompasses 164 sq miles of rural western Washington County. In addition to Lincoln, the communities of Canehill, Cincinnati, Dutch Mills, Evansville, Morrow, and Summers are within the LCSD area. The area of the school district is roughly the same square miles as the Fayetteville, Springdale, Bentonville, and Rogers city limits, combined. Yet, the two areas can’t be more different.
The district is in a high poverty area, which often creates a financial barrier for interested youth to participate in our activities. With 71% of the district eligible for free and reduced lunches and 39% of families with school-aged children below the poverty line (twice that of the national average), we will struggle to maintain our program with minimal impact on the families.
The problem becomes how to support and grow a sport and community program that is, arguably, more expensive on a kid-by-kid basis than other recognized organized school sports. With a basic entry-level quality bike starting in the $500-range, various safety gear around $180, league and race fees also around $180, and bike repairs… the cost for a rider’s family can quickly add up in the first year – creating a considerable barrier to low income families. In the case of foster and other at-risk children, this becomes an insurmountable barrier.
Many of the teams I have spoken with charge dues, in addition to parents pay registration and race fees, and purchase bikes. These options aren’t largely feasible in our district. To put this in perspective, this season we only had two riders who owned their own race capable bike. The only way the team was feasible throughout the series was by covering riders’ fees and loan bikes, helmets, etc. from personal gear.
We have been lucky to have access to five Giant Talon 3’s that the Lincoln Middle School’s Youth Adventure Club had available. The team restored/tuned those bikes back to race ready condition, but over the season, unseen previous wear and tear resulted in broken derailleurs, chains, pedals, etc. As we prepare for next season, we have a total of six Giant Talon’s to work with – several in need of some TLC. In terms of bikes alone, we are capped at the number of riders we can field through loaners.
So, we have a situation where we want to grow but are limited in terms of how much we can grow without additional equipment. Our desire is to secure a few more bikes to ensure we can grow the team and get the ride club underway. Growth will also require having additional safety equipment, bike repair capabilities, overnight camping gear for races, and an ability to provide scholarships and support for financially limited families to participate in the league.
OCA: How can someone help out with your efforts?
Wayne: The Lincoln Mountain Wolves are actively looking for both sponsorship and grassroots financial support. As a new team, we are a blank slate for sponsorship opportunities. We have a wide array of needs, from the seemingly mundane (e.g., replacing OEM pedals and having tires and tubes on hand) to safety essentials (e.g., eye protection, hydration, helmets, and gloves) to critical (e.g., bikes to ride) – everything in between.
Anyone interested in sponsoring the team through funding or donations can contact me. We have several opportunities for jersey and tent wall branding placement.
We also have setup a GoFundMe (gf.me/u/ffqzhg) to help get the team off the ground for the 2018 season and build up the essential equipment.
A teacher at the High School has also set-up a DonorsChoose (click here) focusing on safety equipment and bike maintenance, with 2x matching funds from Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Sports Matter program.
Other than that, we are open to ideas and recommendations. We have a great relationship with the school and can also connect people directly to the school if they are interested in that route. In fact, the HS Principal, Courtney Jones, is Coach Jones’ wife… and hopefully a coach as well in the near future.
Wayne Jones, Coach and Team Director