The Huntsville School District this fall for the first time will have a team compete in mountain biking.
Huntsville will be part of the Arkansas National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA).
MADCO (Madison County Cyclists) will be a composite team of students in the sixth-12th grades, both male and female.
The local team has seven members, including two female student/athletes, according to head coach Eric Blocker. Anyone interested can sign up until August.
“They are not required to race. If they just want to be part of a team and want to ride a bicycle, we can find them something to do if they don’t want to race,” Blocker said.
Blocker worked for 10 years as a patrolman with the Huntsville Police Department. For many years he has worked with the city’s water utilities department.
The cycling team practices at Mitchusson Park, including the skills park that Blocker helped to get installed.
“With a generous offer from Charles Coger, he allowed me to cut in a trail around the airport, so we go around the perimeter of the airport,” Blocker said. The trail is 3.5 miles long and “real kid friendly.”
The team practices two nights a week and on Saturday.
The mountain bike teams are not yet sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association, which overseas high school sports and activities.
During a NICA race, senior high athletes will take three laps around a mountain course, which generally is about 4 miles in length. Younger bikers generally will go one lap.
The trails will include rock formations, changes in terrain, sharp turns and more. Those skills are learned at skills parks like the one in Mitchusson Park.
“The kids can be as competitive as they want. We want them to push themselves and that’s what they’re going to be doing – not only racing these other kids, but they’re going to be racing themselves,” Blocker said. “It’s very taxing mentally and physically, especially for kids that aren’t used to it.”
Blocker said his goal for this fall is to see all team members race at least once.
“As long as the kids are out riding and we’re having fun, that’s what it’s about,” he said.
Blocker said the team from Huntsville is unique for many reasons.
“Not only do we have two girls on the team, we have a student from each grade represented,” he said. “I have five coaches not counting myself. These are parents of the kids on the team. In order for them to ride with us, they have to be a coach.”
The adults have to undergo training and classes before they can work with the team as Level 1 coaches. Blocker is a Level 2 coach.
“I can’t thank them enough,” he said of the parents involved. Those involved will work and ride with the team, doing everything right up until race time, Blocker said.
Blocker, who has ridden bicycles since childhood, said he’s had to relearn the activity since forming the local team.
“I’ve got several that can just flat out ride a bicycle and it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s all skills and ability. Myself, I had to relearn how to ride one after my ‘Evil Knievel’ days as a kid and to do it safely and to be able to teach kids safety.”
This fall’s team will represent a variety of student athletes, he said.
“I’ve got football players, track runners, volleyball players, dancers, band members – you name it. It’s 100 percent all inclusive. Nobody gets turned down. If they want to join and pay the registration fee, we’ll put them on the team,” he said.
The registration fee of $60 and race fee of $25 will cover a student athlete with insurance, Blocker said.
“If they want to race, they’re more than welcome as long as they have shown through the practices, after we do our evaluation and I feel confident turning them loose on a trail,” he said.
The local team was busy this spring, working on the Monument Trail at Hobbs State Park and Conservation Area to help complete a new skills course loop. It also hosted an Intro To Cycling event behind the Madison County Library.
In 2018, Arkansas NICA races were held in Siloam Springs, Bentonville, Hot Springs and Eureka Springs.
The 2019 schedule includes a race at Spring Hill in Barling; the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs; Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville; and Cedar Glades in Hot Springs.
Other teams in the region include Arkansas Arts Academy in Rogers, coached by Blocker’s brother, Daniel; Bentonville High School; Bentonville West High School; Eureka Springs; Fayetteville; Haas Hall Academy; Lincoln; Pea Ridge High School; Springdale Har-Ber; Siloam Springs; Providence Academy in Rogers and Russellville.
During race weekends, Blocker said hundreds of athletes and parents will arrive on Saturday to camp out, play family games and have fellowship with others. Sunday is race day, he said.
Blocker said he would love to see a race held in Huntsville, but there needs to be more trails in the local wooded areas.
Blocker said coaches in the region have been impressed with the Huntsville student athletes and have been helpful with the first-year program.
“They’ve been real accommodating,” Blocker said. “Our kids have surprised a lot of people, not only in their riding capabilities but in their work ethic.”
The Huntsville students made an impression while working on the trail at Hobbs State Park.
“My kids, they got in there. There wasn’t any complaining,” he said. “I told the other coaches, ‘They’re all from Madison County. Most of these kids come from a farm, so they work.’”
Blocker said he doesn’t yet have a team member from St. Paul, which is part of the Huntsville School District. He said he plans to visit with students there once school begins this fall.
“We are a team. Everybody on our team is going to be a part. I don’t care if you’re a sixth-grader or you’re the stud quarterback for the high school, if you’re going to be on our team, you’re going to act like it,” he said.
Blocker has been happy with the early results.
“It’s really amazing what cycling has done for some of them already, and we really haven’t even gotten started,” he said.
Blocker said he would like to see bicycling in all of the local schools, which could lead to development of more trails in the city.
Local sponsors already have helped purchase gear and other items for the Huntsville team.
“We couldn’t have gotten this team going without our sponsors. The sponsorship for the program in our community has been amazing,” he said.
Lew Thompson Trucking, Anstaff Bank, Huntsville Floral and Gifts, and 4D Sanitation are among the sponsors, he said.
With donations, Blocker was able to purchase a race tent and awning, the team’s flag, a bike rack and cleaning station, team jerseys and more.
The front of the jersey features a combination of a Huntsville Eagle and St. Paul Fleur-de-lis inside a medieval shield. The back will say “MADCO” in big, red letters, with “One District • One Team • Better Together” in smaller, blue type.
Mountains and streams also are depicted on the back.
“I don’t want my kids on this team to feel that they’re out of place with all the fancy teams,” Blocker said. “I made it a point to make sure all the kids have nice helmets and jerseys, and make sure their bikes are kept up.
“They’re going to look as cool as anybody out there. We may never win a race, but they’re going to look good doing it, I guarantee you, and they’re going to have fun.”
Blocker said Huntsville is just on the edge of great cycling opportunities, with new tracks and trails throughout northwest Arkansas.
“Cycling has really, really taken off. We’re fortunate now that we’re starting to get things in place,” he said.
Blocker, who said he rode bikes all over Springdale as a youngster, said he’s excited for Huntsville’s initial team.
“I love it,” he said. “This isn’t about [me] wanting to do this, but our kids need to get off the couch, off their phones, get out and do something, and if you can be part of a team, why not?”