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PARK CITY — Utah's cycling culture is growing and with the organization of a new high school cycling league, it's getting younger, too.
The new Utah High School Cycling League, a chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, held its first race Saturday in Park City. Nearly 300 male and female bicyclists competed, rivaling rider counts of established leagues in California and Colorado.
Rather than focus on competition, however, their focus is on strength, character and inclusiveness, encouraging camaraderie and good sportsmanship.
"I promise you that kid who pulls over and helps someone who fell, because he values those principals, is going to feel better about himself and have better self-esteem than the kid who ran him over to get first or second place," said Executive Director Lori Harward.
For many teens, this was their first race — and Harward hopes it will just be one of many throughout their lives.
"This is the very first race for every one of my riders; yesterday we handed out jerseys and their eyes were as big as saucers," said East High School Coach Drew Jordan in a press release.
Haward says they have been overwhelmed by willing volunteers and donations, making it possible for teen boys and girls from all walks of life to be able to ride, including refugees from Malaysia, India, and Africa.
The race has divisions for freshman, junior varsity and varsity athletes, and qualified riders can advance to regional and national championship races.
Haward, who founded the Utah chapter with her husband after hearing about it in southern California about two years ago, says she hopes the chapter will continue to grow. NICA has a goal of coast-to-coast participation by 2020.
The Utah High School Cycling League's next race will be held Sept. 22 at Sherwood Hills Resort in Cache County.