By Shaun Szkolnik, sports editor
TRUSSVILLE — One of the fastest growing sports in high school athletics is mountain bike racing, and Hewitt-Trussville got in on the ground floor. Not only that, but the Huskies’ mountain bike team was state champion two years ago and for the last two years, can claim the varsity boys state champion.
“This is the fifth year that Trussville has had a mountain biking team and it is the fifth year that Alabama has had a league,” said coach Rhonda Brittain. “So, we’ve had a team since the inception of the Alabama league.”
The high school and middle school teams practice together and the inaugural season they boasted a total number of 13 riders. That number has grown every year and now, between high school and middle school, there are fifty student-athletes participating in the sport.
As with any sport, the key to being successful in mountain biking is a mixture of talent, training, coaching and having the right equipment.
Riders have to be equipped with helmets, shoes that can clip into the peddles and, of course, a mountain bike. Students are responsible for providing their own bikes and they must be a bit stouter than what is required for average street use. Their bikes have to be lighter and come with high-quality components so that, as Brittain put it, the bike will shift when it needs to shift and brake when it needs to brake.
Once properly equipped, the student-athletes are set to begin their practice and training.
“We do a combination of conditioning and skills,” said Brittain. “So, we typically have several skills clinics in late fall to the early part of the winter. Our regular season practice will start Dec. 1 and we usually train Tuesday, Thursday and one day on the weekend. We’ve actually been fortunate enough to have a couple of areas close to the school, and also the middle school, where we can train and, typically on the weekends, we can go to either Oak Mountain or Tannehill State Park to do more of a trail ride.”
Some of the skills necessary to compete in mountain biking include creek crossing, being able to turn sharp corners, and riding over rocks and roots.
“It takes a lot of focus and a lot of trail skill to be able to maneuver through those obstacles,” Brittain said. “In addition, they have to have really good fitness, because it is an endurance sport.”
The focus has paid off, as evident by Hewitt-Trussville being the state champions for 2018 and by a big win they had at a race in Huntsville on Sunday.
The Huntsville course was a little over five miles and presented a combination of wide-open areas that required a lot of sprinting, as well as a number of tight turns. In the past, bikers were allowed to ride through rocket city and actually go below the rockets; this year, however, that did not happen.
“(The Huntsville race) was really a test of endurance,” said Brittain. “Some kids are better at the flatter sections and some kids are better at the more technical trail sections, but overall…we had about 540 registered riders across the state and, I want to say, 31 teams overall. They have smaller teams and larger teams. We’re a larger team and so we’re scored as Division 1…it was definitely a test of endurance, for this race.”
Brittain is positive about the future of the sport and how it can provide its practitioners with a skill that will serve them long after their high school athletic careers have ended.
“I would definitely say it is a growing sport,” Brittain said. “What is cool about it is that it is not a mainstream sport, it is a team sport, it has the team aspect but it also has individual, as well. The last two years we’ve had the state champion for the varsity boys…for our kids to have that potential and to do that two years in a row is pretty incredible. We were state champions two years ago, so we’re hoping to win the whole thing again this year.
“This is something that kids can do now, but it is also something that they can do later with their families, or individually, for years to come. I think that kind of sets it apart from other sports, as well.”
The Hewitt-Trussville mountain bike team will have another race Sunday, March 31, at Oak Mountain, with the high school girls starting at 9 a.m., the middle school boys starting at 11:15 a.m. and the high school boys starting at 1 p.m.
“The events are very family friendly,” Brittain said. “Yes, there is competition, but when you’ve got 1,500 to 2,000 people cheering for you, it is a pretty amazing feeling. And everybody is supporting you even though there is a competition…it is a very supportive group.”