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Hall County high school cycling team finds surprising success
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Johnson High freshman Molly Hayes secured the varsity girls state championship in the Georgia High School Cycling League after winning the season finale on Nov. 2 at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. - photo by For The Times

Interested in being a part of the team next fall?

Contact coach Chad Hayes at ChadH@hayesauto.net or 678-414-2030.

It was a trailblazing season for the Hall County-Prima Tappa High School Mountain Bike Team in numerous ways.

The group of six students from three local high schools and a home school wasn’t the biggest in the first year for both the team and the Georgia High School Cycling League. Coaches and bikers alike didn’t know what to expect when practice began and even when the season started in September. Those students were the few who found out about the team, which had to rely on signs posted on local trails because school was out when the team was formed.

By the time the season wrapped up Nov. 2 at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, the results were overwhelmingly positive. Johnson High freshman Molly Hayes won the finale, finishing three laps of a four-mile course in 1:17.02.3. She also won the varsity girls state championship for the season, marking one of five top-three finishes for the team’s racers in their respective divisions. She won all three varsity girls races for the year. The Hall-Prima Tappa group took second in the 11-team league, coming in behind champion Habersham, which had 17 cyclists.

Head coach Chad Hayes originally thought he would be disappointed with having only six people join the team, but it didn’t take long to see what kind of group he had.

“They just came together as a team like you wouldn’t believe,” Chad Hayes said.

For Molly Hayes, the state champion who has been mountain biking since she was little, seeing the interest of others in the sport was a pleasant surprise. She goes to church with one of the team members and had gone to school with two others but didn’t previously know they shared her affinity for cycling. She said sometimes it can be easy to go through the motions when biking by herself, something that’s much harder to do in a team context.

“You have them there to talk to,” said Molly Hayes, Chad’s daughter. “And they also push you.”

John Wagner, a Gainesville High junior, took second place in the junior varsity boys division for the season and also was second in the final race. He found out about the team by seeing a poster on a trail and decided to check out what it was all about.

Wagner said the team shared a great bond and that he enjoyed meeting new friends during the season.

“I’m kind of sad it’s over,” Wagner said. “It went by so fast.”

Other team members were Chestatee High freshmen Davis Branyon, Zach Funk and Jack Saxton and home school student Anna Nabors.

Branyon was second in freshman boys for the season after winning the two-lap finale in 43:47.6, with Funk third for the year and in the final race. Saxton was sixth for the season and fifth in the last race.
Nabors was third for the varsity girls division both for the season and in the finale.

The foundation for the strong season was laid back when the team began practicing. Chad Hayes said he didn’t let the kids on a trail the first two practices, instead teaching them the skills they would need. He said it was a little frustrating for some of the team’s faster members, but they benefited by eliminating some of their bad habits.

“This year we had no idea what the year would bring,” Chad Hayes said. “We just tried to be organized, make sure we had solid practices for the kids, make sure we learned from each race.”

That element of the unknown made success sweeter.

“We completely surprised ourselves because nobody knew what to expect,” Wagner said. “We were just out there having fun.”

Chad Hayes called it a great team atmosphere as the group broke new ground.

“We made them feel like ‘you’re the first, you’re starting something,’” the coach said.

Teams from Atlanta, Gwinnett County and the Columbus area all had teams in the league. Molly Hayes liked her father’s analogy of the races being like a county fair where all the groups have their own tent but interact with everyone else.

“It’s really fun to be able to connect with these people from all over the state,” Molly Hayes said.

She and Funk were both cross country runners, and some of their teammates play other sports. Molly Hayes is hopeful others will see how enjoyable mountain biking can be and join the team next season. She said it was impressive to see how newcomers to cycling vastly improved during the season.

Chad Hayes said the league hopes to draw some kids who haven’t played other sports and are looking for their niche. He said it’s a mix of very fast and not as fast cyclists.

Some league teams had members from just one school, but the Hall County group was one of the “composite” teams pulling from multiple schools. Chad Hayes said the goal is to eventually have a team at every school.

But for now, Hall-Prima Tappa’s cyclists will be at club day at their schools and holding informational meetings with the coach hoping the group can more than triple by next fall. The coach said he’s aiming to have 20 kids from Hall County, regardless of skill level or experience biking on a trail.

“We’ll teach you everything you need to know,” Chad Hayes said.

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