Saturday, January 20, 2018

NICA and Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League Information Night

I attended the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) information night on 20 January 2018 at Crofton Bike Doctor. Here are my notes.

NICA and its Maryland League

NICA focuses on making mountain biking fun for children in grades 6-12. Their values emphasize inclusiveness and positive support for physical, mental, and emotional health. Their program places a high value on safety and risk management.

NICA is a huge organization, and it is growing, as is the sport of mountain biking. They have 22 leagues across 21 states. 10,826 student athletes, and 4,389 volunteers. Leagues typically double in size between the first and second years.

The league being launched in Maryland, the Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League, will need adult volunteers as well as student athletes. A leadership commission has already been established, and includes cycling leaders from around the state. There is also an aggressive fundraising campaign. While most of the revenue will come from race registration, race registration will com after the need for funds to start. The Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League is a brand new 501(C), so donations are tax-deductible.

Practices and Competitions

Each student athlete who wants to compete can. There is no "bench," no try-outs, no cuts. All are welcome. Each competitor who finishes the course earns points for their team, even the slowest competitor.

Competitions are on single-track courses. Passing is done safely, and the focus on risk management means there are no overly technical courses - no biking along cliffs, no jumps, no drop-offs. The goal is to make competing fun for everyone, even brand-new cyclists. The challenge is often in how fast an athlete can complete the course.

Practice venues are determined by a team's coach or coaches. Not every practice will be a ride through the woods. There are lots of skills that can be honed in a field. Requirements focus on inclusiveness. There is no minimum number of practices per week and no maximum, but coaches are trained in risk management and are therefore wary of over-working student athletes.

Competitions are huge events. Often, 1,000 people arrive to compete, volunteer, or observe. Some competitions have to be in locations that not only offer a course without too many technical challenges, but that also have parking for hundreds of vehicles and nearby camping available. Competitions aim to be weekend-long events, with set-up on Friday night, non-competitive rides and further preparation on Saturday, and competitive events on Sunday.

All events are optional. Being on a team does not mean you have to go to every competition or every practice. Going to a competition does not mean you have to arrive on Friday night - if you can only make the competition on Sunday, you would be welcome.

Venues being examined for the 2018 season in Maryland are Fair Hill, Rosaryville State Park, Schaeffer Farm and Button Farm, and Brunswick. Dates of competitions will be finalized by the end of February.


There is a lot of support through NICA for adults who would like to help out with a team or with the league. While there are requirements for coaches, there is an opportunity for those who would like to try it out once without going through the qualification process. There are also opportunities to volunteer that do not involve getting on a bike. There is a leadership summit which will provide everything needed to become a coach. The cost of the summit is $90.

Coaching will require, among other things, a background check, a brief course in risk management (provided by NICA), and concussion training. There are levels of coaching, but for the first year, the teams can only be level one teams, so the coaches need only be level one coaches.


Teams are encouraged to be associated with a school, but there are also composite teams that include student athletes based on their geographic location or on other bases.

The required ratio of students to qualified coaches is 6:1.

Team dues are optional and there are very soft rules on how a team can function. The one hard and fast rule is that teams must have a team uniform. But even this is flexible - the uniform can be as simple as matching tee-shirts. NICA is negotiating with Hill Killer Apparel for helping teams design and produce uniforms.

Key Dates

  • March 17-18: Leaders' Summit
  • April 1: Registration and beginning of pre-season - teams meet informally
  • July 1: In-Season - teams meet regularly for practice and conditioning
  • September-October: Race Season - there will be 4 races in Maryland during the 2018 season. Typically there are 4-6 races in a season.

More Information

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