Between the formation of a youth mountain bike team and an upcoming mountain bike race at Buffalo Lake scheduled for later this year, Hardin County has become a regional hot spot in the world of competitive youth cycling.

Last October, representatives from the National Interscholastic Cy­cling Association and the Ken­tucky Interscholastic Cy­cling League visited Buffalo Lake in Elizabethtown for con­sideration as a possible bike race venue.

“Overall, they were very impressed with the trails and the community,” said David Haines, head coach for the Har­din-­Eliza­beth­town KICL composite and board member for cycling league.

Now, Buffalo Lake is set to be the venue for race three in the 2021 KICL Race Series. The race is scheduled for Sept. 25-26.

Providing education, training, licensing and insurance for coaches and volunteers, KICL offers competitive mountain biking opportunities for athletes in grades six through 12 and is open to public, private and home school students.

The league now is in its inaugural year for events with plans to provide mountain bike programs involving practices, races, adventure rides and workshops.

Haines said the league is anticipating 100 to 150 athletes and 10 to 12 teams this year with the hope of growing to 500 to 1,000 athletes in the next few years.

KICL was founded in 2019 as a nonprofit Emer­gent League of NICA. Originally formed in 2009, NICA has grown to include 30 state leagues comprised of more than 40,000 athletes and 11,000 coaches and volunteers.

Haines said efforts to form the leage started in earnest in Hardin County when a meeting of representatives across the state took place at Outdoor Ventures Bike Shop in Radcliff in 2017.

“NICA and KICL missions are simply to get more kids on bikes using cycling to build strong minds, bodies, character and communities through the sport of cycling,” Haines said, “It is not just about the bike and competition. There are aspects of the program that reward teamwork, leadership and community service.”

The Hardin-Eliza­beth­town KICL composite team has been in existence since 2018, Haines said. Made up of athletes, coaches and volunteers from throughout Hardin County, the team successfully competed in the Tennessee league in 2019 but did not take part in competitive league events in 2020 because of COVID-19.

There currently are nine athletes on the local team and Haines said he currently is in talks with a few interested families. There also are eight coaches involved on the team, who are either fully-trained or in the training process. Haines said he hopes to have about 15 athletes and families in total by the end of this year’s registration period.

In addition to receiving support from the parents of athletes, the local team also is supported by the Central Kentucky Wheelmen and the Lin­coln Trail Chapter of the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association, Haines said.

Haines said NICA teams often invigorate not just athletes, but the entire family. According to NICA, about half of parents begin to actively pursue cycling because of the participation of their children in NICA teams.

“With minimal training and effort, parents can ride with their athletes at practices and adventure events,” Haines said.

In addition, NICA teams do not require team tryouts or benchmarks for athletes.

KICL is seeking athletes, coaches, volunteers and individuals for positions of league leadership and supporters/sponsors. Athlete registration for the fall league now is open and practices begin after July 4. For information, go to kentuckymtb.org or contact hardin.etown.mtb@gmail.com.

Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-505-1413 or acritchelow@thenewsenterprise.com.

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