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Ready, Set, Ride

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Several local students are enjoying thrills and learning skills on Georgia mountain bike trails thanks to their participation in a new team effort to build the sport locally.

Rome Composite is a local mountain bike team made up of area 6th through 12th graders. They train for several races throughout the season and are learning valuable lessons along the way.

Head Coach Matt Stahl had been driving his two young mountain bikers to Georgia High School Cycling League practices and races when he realized that Rome needed its own team so local students could participate without having to be on a team out of town.

“They were on a team in the Acworth/Kennesaw are and we’d have to drive down every time for practices and of course for races,” Stahl said. Sometimes we’d drive there and get rained out. It was inconvenient. I decided to start my own team.”

So he established Rome Composite. The team is within the Georgia High School Cycling League, a 501c3 nonprofit organization currently operating under the National Interscholastic Cycling Association umbrella, providing exclusive mountain biking programs for middle and high school students, working to establish and maintain safe, quality high school mountain biking programs. It provides students interested in mountain bike with the coaching and camaraderie to help them achieve both competitive and non-competitive cross-country mountain biking goals in a safe and enjoyable manner. It also helps develop an awareness of what it is to be an amateur athlete and to be gracious and respectful to their community.

The program creates an environment in which participants discover new friendships and find role models and it guides them toward learning new skills and disciplines, spread the foundations of mountain bike racing across the country.

Finally, it fosters a responsible attitude toward the use of trails and wilderness and promotes the value of cycling to the community as a mode of transportation and as a life long sport.

Rome Composite assistant coach Mark Pearce said he, Stahl and ride leader Steve Kight make sure local students have the opportunity to enjoy the sport by providing training and transport to area races. The men attended a coach’s summit and learned what it took to start a team in Rome. They had to undergo background checks and each must be qualified for his position, undergoing training in such things as first aid, concussion training and each must complete various tests.

The kids train under Stahl, Pearce and Kight, learn the skills they need to compete and then travel to races throughout the area. The high schoolers earn points toward the team.

Rome Composite team members are Logan Stahl, Kaitlyn Stahl, Nate Smith, Sam Rix, Blake Montgomery, Luciano Hasko and Matthew McKerrocher. Kaitlyn is 8th grade girls Georgia state champion for 2016.

“I like riding mountain bikes because I get to ride really fast and, unlike road biking, we get to turn and there’s little bumps and it makes it more interesting than just riding straight up and down,” Kaitlyn said.

Their season ended last week. Since July they practiced Tuesday and Thursday evenings and every other weekend and they traveled to several races.

“When we started, our number one goal has always been to teach the kids safety,” Pearce said. “They learn to always wear a helmet and not to ride above above their limit. That’s the number one thing. Then we teach them bike-handling skills and techniques. Then as the season progressed we did sprints and endurance and intervals to build their fitness.”

Pearce said what drew him to the idea of a local team is the league’s and Stahl’s approach to coaching.

“It’s less about mountain biking and more about developing the youth,” he said. “Their motto is ‘strong minds, strong bodies, strong character.’ It’s about inclusivity and equality. Cycling is something they can do when they’re 60 and 70 years old. They learn to work as a team and they’re socializing with kids their own age doing something that’s productive and healthy. That’s what I really love about it.”

Stahl agreed, saying the coaches stressed trail etiquette, integrity and honesty so that team members would become better mountain bikers but also would grow in character.

The team trains mainly at the Jackson Hill trails. They traveled to races across Georgia including Jackson, Conyers, Athens and Watkinsville.

“It was our first year so it was successful from just the practicing standpoint and training and getting to races.” Pearce said. “We didn’t finish high in the standings but that’s because it was our first season and we only had three high schoolers earning points for the team. But everyone had fun and nobody got hurt so that’s a successful first season for us.”

Pearce said the team will do a call-out for new members in April and May and begin practicing around the beginning of July. Local 6th to 12th graders are invited to participate. Students do not need mountain biking experience to participate. Stahl emphasized that the league has a scholarship program and a loaner bike program so that students who cannot afford a bike or league-related fees can still participate if they’re interested.

“The best part is there’s no bench,” Stahl said. “Everybody who comes out can race. But they doesn’t have to. Everyone has to register through the league. But if a student just wants to train and practice with the team but just doesn’t feel like traveling and racing, that’s fine too.”

Students or their parents interested in participating next season can get information online at the team’s Facebook page by searching “Rome Composite” or can email Matt Stahl at matt.stahl@comcast.net.