AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — As most kids go through high school, they trade in two tires for four.
That's how cyclist and Auburn resident Adam Crews puts it, expressing his desire for kids to stay active in cycling — even long after they have their driver's licenses.
Now, high school students will have a new opportunity to stay involved, as the National Interscholastic Cycling Association brings a new high school mountain bike racing league to the state next winter and spring.
"It fills that gap, that void, to give these kids something to do," Crews said.
NICA hopes to open its inaugural practice season in Alabama on Dec. 1, with races starting in the spring of 2015.
Organization volunteers met with area residents Wednesday at Chewacla State Park, hoping to spread word of the new league and let local parents and students know how they can get involved.
Eddie Freyer of Hoover, who has been working as league director, said NICA has been in operation for 12 years, and that Alabama marks the 13th league the association has in place across 12 states.
"We're looking for some pretty good things out of it here in Alabama," Freyer said. "The response so far that I've had, just across the state — I've got a list of about 35 schools that have someone from the school, whether it's a parent or a student or a teacher or a principal or athletic director, have reached out to me and said, 'Hey, we want to get involved with this.' Really, really good, tremendous support across the state."
Freyer said that the league will be made up of club teams, but that, ideally, each team would represent a school with their respective mascot and colors — although "composite" teams can also be built of high school bikers throughout a given area.
"Coaches are adult volunteers, typically parents of a student — although that's not always the case," Freyer said.
Crews, who first heard about NICA while competing in adult league races across the country, said he called the organization to help set up an Alabama league, only to find that it was already being organized. From there, he was able to connect with Freyer, and now, he's helping organize potential teams in the area.
"I just jumped on board to help in any way I could," Crews said. "My focus right now is getting the league started in this area particularly. I live in Auburn, and I've got a daughter that would be on the team. We're excited to get started."
Hannah Crews, a junior at Auburn High School, said she was excited about the opportunity to compete against and alongside fellow high school students — instead of just adult women in club leagues.
"It's not just a random organization — it's more community-based," Hannah Crews said. "You know them, instead of just these random strangers from Georgia or these other places. And there's real competition, because you can talk about it later to people that you've raced with."
Teams in the league will be broken into JV, varsity, boys and girls classifications, and racers will be competing for individual and team titles.
Freyer said that the new Alabama league has been following the lead of other NICA leagues in its organizing.
"We've got a great template to follow," Freyer said. "They have really created a working model that, when we do our first race, it's going to look like we've been doing this for 12 years. We're just following the template, following the model. They're providing all the training for us to make this thing look great."
As a club organization, Adams Crews said that NICA teams would make no cuts, and that all students are invited to participate and compete. If one team has a surplus, Crews said, they have the option of splitting it into two teams.
"We're building right now," Freyer said. "We've been very fortunate. We've had some sponsors and some donors who have come on board to help us with the financial side of things, get this off the ground. We're certainly looking to build that aspect up as well.
"I'm going to do things like a scholarship programs for kids, loaner bike programs where kids who can't afford bikes can go into a local bike shop where we have a league bike that we can check out and use. As long as I can get the financial backing to do all that, we're going to have all that in place by next season."
Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, http://www.oanow.com/