If former Lindenwood University Head Cycling Coach Chris Mileski has his way, high school students across the Show Me State will soon have another extracurricular activity in which to participate — mountain biking.
Mileski, a current member of the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference and one of the nation’s premier cycling coaches, is leading an effort to bring the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) youth mountain biking program to Missouri, with races starting as early as fall 2019.
“We don’t do enough for junior cycling,” Mileski said. “You go to a mountain bike race in Missouri, and there are three kids at the start, lined up with the adults. But you go to Utah or Arkansas, where they have NICA leagues, and you have hundreds of kids competing in their own races, against other kids on kid-friendly courses, being cheered on by their schoolmates and families.”
Under Mileski’s proposed Missouri High School Cycling League, teams from high schools around the state would participate in five or six races, one every two weeks starting in September and running through the fall. The league would oversee the development, training and education of teams and coaches in their communities, using NICA’s proven standards and guidelines.
“NICA just gets it. They want to build a safe and sustainable program that will recruit kids into the cycling community and help pave the way for future growth of the sport,” said Mileski. “They want the coaches to teach a certain way, stressing skills development but also teamwork and respect. They have a particular setup for their events — a family-friendly, exciting atmosphere with music and sponsors and overnight camping.”
There are currently 21 NICA leagues in 20 states around the country, with 800 school-based teams, more than 14,000 student-athletes and 6,000 licensed coaches. The non-profit organization was founded in 2009 with the mission of improving the lives of teens and positively impacting communities by providing a high-quality, safe and fun interscholastic mountain bike program based on the principles of strong body, strong mind, strong character, equality and inclusivity.
“With ball sports you need people and teams, and things have gotten cutthroat. With NICA, everyone rides, everyone contributes points to their team, and women are scored equal to men. Teams can be from a high school or a district or even from collective districts. There is flexibility within the rules. It’s about building camaraderie within the competition,” Mileski said. “Endurance sports are looked at with a stigma. By bringing mountain biking to the schools, we’re making it more acceptable and accessible.”
Before Mileski can bring NICA to Missouri, the organization must accept his bid to establish a league, which will be presented this spring. Mileski has been coordinating with NICA for three years, going so far as to become a certified coach with the Arkansas Interscholastic Cycling League, and he is confident things will move forward. The next steps would be to build a league website, start marketing and fundraising, and begin recruiting coaches and teams.
“If we had teams in St. Louis City and County, and all the other small communities here, that would be great. But I don’t want it to be a St. Louis thing. I want it to be statewide, with Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia involved,” said Mileski. “Races would take place around the state. It’s about getting everyone out there and building the cycling culture. If twenty or thirty or fifty kids show up the first year, it’s a success to me.”
Learn more about NICA at nationalmtb.org and find out how to help with Missouri’s high school mountain bike project by contacting Mileski at firstname.lastname@example.org.