New cycling team fills sports gap in county

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, July 3, 2019

When John Otte saw Hannah Manley on a real mountain bike for the first time, he knew he was doing the right thing in creating the Clark County Cycling Team.

“It was like somebody flipped a switch,” Otte said. “(Hannah’s) easy to work with, and she learned so quick. Kids are like sponges, and we show them something, they soak it up. And when they do something that you taught them to do … that’s what makes it worth it.”

Otte, the head coach and founder of the Clark County Cycling Team, works at Toyota and has been living in Winchester for about 13 years. He eventually picked up biking as a hobby.

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“I used to road bike, and then a couple of years ago, I started mountain biking because I was afraid of getting hit on the road by car,” Otte said. “So through that, all of a sudden, a friend of mine introduced me to this program, which is NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.”

Otte, 42, said NICA is in 27 states, and there’s a group of individuals that’s pushing for Kentucky to be the next state that gets accepted.

“(NICA uses) a thing that says, one coach and one kid is all you need,” Otte said.

Otte’s son was interested in cycling, and knowing Clark County didn’t have any cycling teams, it was a gap he needed to fill. Teams are great for building camaraderie, cooperation and discipline, and cycling is great exercise for all ages, Otte said. It was a no-brainer.

Otte applied to get a team certified. After completing the coach training in Frankfort, the next — and hardest part — was getting the word out.

“Schools have been really good working with us, but most of them, they hear about basketball, football, baseball,” Otte said. “When you start talking about mountain biking, all of a sudden, they’re like, well, what in the world is that? I think that’s the biggest challenge is getting the word out there.”

Otte started asking on Facebook if people knew of students interested and soon after, Lisa Manley, who is now a parent volunteer for the team, contacted Otte about her daughter, Hannah, being interested.

“We got together last year and had a few practices and stuff, and it took off from there,” Otte said.

Hannah Manley, 11, said when her mom had told her about it, her first thought was it sounded fun.

“We had a teeny tiny little bike, and we had to go out and get a mountain bike, and the first time I rode on it, I was super amazed by it because it felt so different from my other bike,” Hannah said.

Hannah’s enthusiasm caught on, which Otte said was reassuring that starting the team was a good decision.

“Whenever I heard about mountain biking, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, am I going to learn how to do cool stuff on my bike and jump on rocks and stuff,’” Hannah said. “So I was excited to do it. And then whenever I started, I found out that it was going to be fun … whenever I got on the big bike, I don’t know, it felt like I really, really, wanted to do mountain biking then because … I was like ‘this feels right.’”

Otte said it’s a “world of difference” going from a little 20-inch Walmart bike to a nice mountain bike.

The team begins practicing for its first season Monday at Lykins Park. Otte said the team currently has five members, and he is looking for more in the sixth to 12th grade age range. The team is also looking for additional sponsors, Otte said. Contact Otte at 859-230-5905 or for more information.

Students do need a bike to participate, but if they don’t own one, Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation is offering bikes to team members during their first year. Students also need a helmet. Eventually, Otte said he would like for the team to be affiliated with the school district.

“We got a saying: more kids on bikes,” Otte said. “That’s our big thing is we’re trying to get more kids on bikes. There’s a lot of sports out there, like basketball, football and stuff. Not everybody is going to be a basketball kid. Not everybody’s going to be a football kid. But there are very few kids out there that don’t know how to ride a bike … Show me a kid. I guarantee they’ve been on a bike.”

Otte said the Clark County Cycling Team has two sides: an adventure side and a racing said.

“It’s a whole different world from being able to ride in your neighborhood to being out in the woods because you got to actually watch out for things like trees and rocks and branches and stuff like that out there,” Otte said.

Kentucky doesn’t have an official NICA league so the team will compete in Tennessee during its first season. Though, there are a few other Kentucky teams, such as Marshall County, Whitley County, Hopkinsville, Lexington and more, who also compete in Tennessee. Otte said he hopes more teams spring up, so Kentucky has more of a reason to bring a NICA league to the state.

However, students don’t have to race if they don’t want to, Otte said.

“The racing part is optional, but it is encouraged,” he said. “… So if they don’t want to race, they come to practices … and they can do our trail rides.”

Otte said a lot of people don’t realize there are college scholarships for cyclists such as Lindsey Wilson College, Union College and more.

And the best part, Otte said, is cycling is a lifelong sport.

“I’m 42 years old, and I’m biking, and I race as well,” Otte said. “It’s something that you can continue much later in your life.”

The sport is not only an individual sport but also a team sport. Teams in the NICA league require diversity; if there isn’t a girl on the team, the race organizers won’t score the team.

“Everybody rides,” Otte said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or anything else. There are no benchwarmers.”

Hannah agreed, saying it’s nice to have a team where everybody is genuinely part of the team. She said she’s excited about her first practice with her new teammates, especially after competing in her first mountain bike race, The Boondoggle, Saturday in London. She won first place in her age group.

“I was kind of nervous before my first race,” Hannah said. “We went out on the trails and practiced. And there are a few turns that I had a little trouble with. So I was like, ‘I’m going to remember that I need to work on these turns as practicing.’ And then we came back up. And whenever we did the race … I got behind a few times. And I didn’t care about what I was doing. I cared about not dying on the trail. And then at one point, I just noticed that I wasn’t going to die on the trails. And I was OK with the turns and stuff and the big hills. And then I caught up at the last hill to pass the person in front of me, and I won.”

Otte said he loved to see Hannah and his son talking about their first race, describing every little bitty thing they did while out in the woods and how they did it.

“That’s when you know you’re doing something right,” he said.

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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