It’s a brand new team, but it’s already shaping up to be a fierce competition.
Members of the Hall County High School Mountain Bike Team, open to teens from any high school in Hall County and Gainesville, brought home a slew of medals after competing in their first race last week.
John Wagner, a junior at Gainesville High School, and Molly Hayes, a freshman at Johnson High School, both placed first in their categories. The team placed second overall in the Georgia High School Cycling League’s Sept. 7 race in Conyers.
Other team members also took the podium for second- and third-place awards, and all said they had a great experience.
“It was the first time I’ve done anything like that,” said Zack Funk, a Chestatee High School freshman.
“It was fun,” said Jack Saxton, also a freshman at Chestatee. “I think I was nervous about starting ... but we practiced that here and it really helped.”
The team gathers three times a week to practice on the mountain bike trail at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.
Wagner, who has previous mountain biking experience, said it can be hard to stay motivated sometimes, but it’s always worth it.
“Getting out there and doing it (is a challenge). You like to do it, but you don’t want to put in the effort to do it sometimes,” he said, but “it’s a lot more fun on a team.”
“It’s not a hobby anymore,” said Saxton, who also has previous mountain biking experience. “Colleges are starting to give out scholarships for it.”
The team only has six members this year, two of them girls: Hayes and ninth-grader Anna Nabors, who attends home school.
Hayes said there were fewer girls at the statewide race as well. She wasn’t surprised when she at Nabors took first and second place in the freshman girls’ race, as only one other girl was competing.
There were only 11 girls, including the three freshmen, participating in any category of the statewide race, but 72 boys.
“I guess a bunch of the girls (are busy with) a bunch of other sports,” Hayes said, “but not a lot of people know that there’s a team for that.”
Saxton said he suspects participation in other sports, including swimming and cross-country, has kept students of either gender from signing up for the mountain bike team.
Coach Chad Hayes said he’s hoping more kids will join the team next year, including those without previous mountain biking experience.
“We will teach anybody the skills they need to be safe and to compete and have fun,” he said. “We’re going to teach you, before you get on the trail, how to deal with what you’re going to be riding on.”
Saxton said navigating difficult trails is half the fun.
“It’s like a roller coaster with an element of danger,” he said. “I think the most fun is when you almost crash and when you don’t, it’s like, ‘I did it!’”
Hayes said weaving through the trails is tricky and is all about learning the right skills.
“The negotiation of things on the trail, if you’re not ready for it, you’ll crash,” he said, but added, “you’d be amazed what those kids just plow right through.”
He said he wants to see new, inexperienced bikers on the team because those are the ones who could benefit most from coaching.
“The league is all about new people who have never done this before,” he said. “We would like to have some kids who don’t ride a whole lot so we can have those experiences.”