This year, West Virginia’s first mountain bike team for teenagers completed its debut year of practices and races.

The Eastern Panhandle composite team that includes mostly Berkeley and Jefferson County middle and high school students is affiliated with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). NICA has 14,000 student-athletes country wide.

The Eastern Panhandle Mountain Bike Team (EPMTB) currently has seven student athletes—boys and girls in grades 6-12—plus five coaches. The team had four races this year—the last on October 21 in North Bend State Park (Harrisville, WV)—but hopes to increase that number in the future. Because the races are sometimes spread out across the state, getting to them can cause logistical issues. Teresa Collins, the newly appointed director of EPMTB, said that hopefully next year, there will be more races on the eastern side of West Virginia.

But despite the team’s relative newness and limited amount of race entries, the Eastern Panhandle squad (open to anyone who wants to participate) has already experienced success. In their first race of the year, rider Ian Purdy took first place in his division, while Seth Painter earned second place.

“Any students from local schools and home schoolers can participate; you don’t need prior experience,” said Collins. “We’re trying to encourage development of the life-long sport. Students in high school play football and baseball, but once they graduate, they don’t continue. Mountain biking is a great activity people do throughout their lives. Also, not everybody makes the football team, but everybody can join us.”

The team also boasts two divisions: racing and adventure. “Racing is optional, but adventure is an integral part of mountain biking,” Collins noted. “We encourage both racers and adventure riders—our core values are strong mind, body, and character … inclusivity and equality.”

Practices consist of character building and values discussion, experiential and mechanical aptitude sessions, bike-handling skills, and single-track course riding for cardiovascular fitness and racing skills.

“The Panhandle team’s head coach is Sean Godsey, who is wonderful in organizing the parents, coaches, and students,” Collins indicated. “He was our rock this year, making sure everything got off the ground. Another coach, Kevin Roberts, has been doing trail work at Poorhouse Farm Park (Martinsburg), where we practice.”

According to Collins, the surrounding community has also been getting involved.

“The Eastern Panhandle Bicycle Company has been a big supporter this year. They’ve worked on our students’ bikes and have done a lot of trail work. This involves clearing, determining where trails will go, cutting trails into the landscape, and maintaining trails. We’re trying to get a grant to build more trails. We didn’t have any sponsors this year. We paid for everything ourselves. But we’re excited about getting more riders and sponsors.”

Ian Purdy (right) took first place in his division at a race earlier this year.

Bringing it Home

Trails were built at the Poorhouse Park seven years ago, but have been neglected, Collins pointed out. As of now, the site is not in condition to host races, but this is something she hopes will happen in the near future once the site is approved by NICA.

“We would love to host a race in this area—it’d be great for the community,” she said. “We’re looking at potentially hosting a race at Cacapon State Park next year.”

Collins recently moved back to her native West Virginia from the West Coast. “When I graduated from Portland State, I decided I was going to start a mountain bike and leadership camp for girls in West Virginia. I came back to the state this year and it was too much for me to get the camp organized this year. In July, I heard about a NICA league starting here in the state, so I put out to the groups that I would be interested in coaching and got an opportunity to coach with a team.”

Next year, she said she’ll be organizing learn-to-bike weekends for boys and girls, along with a week-long camp for young girls to come and band together and learn leadership skills and biking.

“The Eastern Panhandle bike group was a springboard for me,” she emphasized. “The whole experience has been serendipitous. I wanted to get involved in the community, and mountain biking is my passion. It’s the most fun I have all week. I love working with these kids. Everybody has a great time. There’s so much joy. I’m excited to see where this goes. In the next few years, the riders will get even better.”

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