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Meeting will gauge North Platte kids' interest in competitive mountain biking
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Meeting will gauge North Platte kids' interest in competitive mountain biking

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Competitive mountain biking has become a popular activity for teens over the past few years with club teams forming across the state and country.

The Nebraska Interscholastic Cycling Association lists nine active programs — eight in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, and the other in Norfolk.

A British nine-year-old is one of the world's best mountain bikers and performs massive jumps of nearly 50ft on his own race track. Talented Henry Ruskin is pictured flying through the air and already rides with children much older than him.

In North Platte, an informational meeting Saturday afternoon will gauge interest in forming a club team for sixth graders through high school seniors.

The DIRT Tour event will be from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Whitetail Paramount Square, 222 E. Fifth St., and is hosted by Shae and Jeff Caldwell, co-owners of Whitetail Cycle Sport and Screen Print.

The meeting will feature Ken Theis, the league director of the NICL, and Bree Campbell of the Girls Riding Together program.

“We really would like to start (the team) this spring, but it might take a little more time to get some legs under this,” Shae Caldwell said Thursday. “It is just in that early stage right now and we are trying to get the information out there and see if it’s a fit for our community.

“It would be another avenue for those kids who want to be physical and want to be active but maybe football or basketball is not their thing.”

In 2019, 22,000 athletes from 28 states competed in the National Interscholastic Cycling League, in which the nine Nebraska programs participate. Students on the Millard West High School team can earn a varsity letter in the sport.

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Theis said 73 athletes were part of the Nebraska league last year in its inaugural season. He would like to see the state levels increase to 15 programs and 150 student-athletes this year.

Another DIRT tour informational meeting will be held in Kearney this weekend. Theis said he also held a recent meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, and has reached out to some other grassroot programs in that state as part of a recruitment effort.

“COVID really put a damper with our outreach last year,” Theis said. “We kind of picked up where we left off last year and added a few extra communities to that list as well.”

The existing programs have attracted a variety of athletes.

“We have some who have been in the traditional ball-and-stick sports for a long time and cycling might be a recreational activity in their families,” Theis said. “We are also capturing a lot of kids who just haven’t found their place in sports yet.”

The season stretches from July 1 to Nov. 30 and Theis said four races are scheduled this year. Potter’s Pasture in Brady is a potential site for one of the events.

The COVID-19 pandemic limited the season to a pair of time trials this past fall.

Caldwell said the goal is to facilitate the local program though the North Platte Public Schools, and there have been preliminary conversations with the district.

She added it’s likely the potential club would have to rely on outside resources for funding.

It’s also not clear yet whether the team would be for North Platte students or involve athletes from a number of districts in Lincoln County.

“It’s too early to know,” Caldwell said. “We’re just trying to see what the interest is.”

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