Four years ago, the Adams County Composite Mountain Bike Team was created with the hope of getting more kids on bicycles. Safe to say, that mission has been a smashing success.
The team, started by Michael Connelly, has grown leaps and bounds since 2017 when six students and two coaches comprised the group. Now, with a whopping 42 students and 17 certified coaches on the roster, ACCMTB is ready to show its stuff as it hosts Grinnin’ at Granite this weekend. The two-day event which takes place Saturday and Sunday at Granite Hill Camping Resort is expected to draw more than 1,000 riders from across the state.
“It has truly been amazing to watch the growth happen,” said team coach Mark Bernier.
The Adams County Composite team is open to students in grades 6-12 who attend public, private or homeschool in any of the six school districts in Adams County. Bernier said all six school districts are represented on the current roster, another sign of the tremendous growth the team has seen. The ACC team is part of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Mountain Bike Cycling League which has been in existence for six years and includes over 1,200 riders. There are five races on the PICL schedule, including the Granite Hill event.
Connelly’s vision was to provide an alternative youth sporting outlet that emphasized participation, inclusion and having fun. That approach has resonated from students and parents alike.
“The beauty of our sport, league and team is that everyone participates,” said Bernier. “No one sits the bench. We have kids that join the team that had never been on a mountain bike and kids competing for podium spots.”
There are races for different age groups, ability levels and genders at PICL events. Additionally, there are Girls Riding Together events, where female riders cover the course just for fun prior to the races.
“The league has really taken hold of the reality that opportunities for females in sports is not the same as males,” said Bernier. “They have programs dedicated to female athletes as a group to build camaraderie. It’s an awesome opportunity for girls to ride with girls and have female coaches with them.”
Bernier, who has two sons on the team, says the rewards of coaching the ACC riders are many, which is part of why the number of certified team coaches has skyrocketed in just four years.
“You see kids of every socioeconomic condition engaging with each other without fear of environment or cliques that you see in a school setting,” he said. “You also see the personal growth of these kids, some who have never ridden a mountain bike. The confidence builds over a period of weeks and sometimes it shocks the kids.”
The team trains on Tuesday and Thursday evenings on a family farm outside of Fairfield, which covers nearly four miles of single-track mountain bike trails. The course includes man-made obstacles as well as logs, rocks and stream crossings. Coaches are present to ensure the safety of riders.
“We show the kids how to do these things safely and then apply it in a race setting,” said Bernier. “The mission is to get more kids on bikes doing things outdoors, and not staring at screens.
Bernier acknowledged that mountain biking can be an expensive sport when considering the cost of a bike and equipment suitable for rugged terrain. There are also registration fees required to participate in races. The team is thankful for assistance from volunteers and sponsors alike. Crownstone Equipment/Bobcat of Adams County donated a new brush cutter for clearing riding trails, ACNB Bank and Utz Quality Foods funded new team kits and Gettysburg Bicycle has helped with gear, parts and repairs, according to Bernier. The team also wished to thank Hartzell Home and Garden Services, Adams Electric Cooperative, Nora’s Barber Shop, CRS Insurance of Gettysburg, TMG Construction, Sites Reality and Mountain Bikers of Micheaux for their help in sponsoring the team.
“We had dozens of community partners that have provided assistances,” he said. “We have scholarship funds for riders to help defray costs and for families with multiple riders. People have donated bikes or lent bikes to kids for the season. It takes an army and we have one, thankfully. I’m grateful for all we’ve been able to benefit from.”
Middle school races on Saturday at Granite Hill begin at 11 a.m. and will continue throughout the afternoon. The high school races, which will take place on a 2.25-mile loop, get under way at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday.