Teenage cyclists zip through McClellan's woods
May 10—Four local teams were represented at the Alabama Cycling Association state championships at McClellan this past weekend, and three local riders took home first-place awards in their categories.
Thirty-two mountain biking teams, of both middle school and high school ages, competed on various wooded routes carved into a hillside at the former Army post. The four local squads represented Donoho, Oxford, Jacksonville and Cheaha Composite — any riders from area schools that didn't have their own team.
Donoho's head coach, Burton Benkwith, was very pleased with his team's winning efforts.
"Donoho got two overall state championships, we had two brothers, a sixth-grader named Jake McLendon and his older brother Noah McLendon, they both won the individual state championships for both sixth-grade and seventh-grade," Beckwith said.
Donoho senior Emma Obermaier placed 3rd overall in the state championships, Benkwith said.
"Those were our top three, two state champions and a third overall, with nine riders that's pretty good. We were quite pleased," Benkwith said.
Benkwith said it says a lot about the character of his team, whose members worked really hard leading up to the championships.
"We started back in early December, we practiced in the wet and the cold and everything in between, and it just shows that hard work and dedication pays off," Benkwith said. "Even the riders that didn't experience that level of success, the progression, we had kids that had never ridden bikes before and competed, the entire team grew every single one of our kids is ten times better now than they were at the first of the year."
Benkwith said that winning is nice but the goal is just to introduce more people to the sport of mountain biking and to get more people to love the sport he and the other coaches are passionate about.
On Saturday Obermaier along with her coaches and other teammates were at the Donoho team's tent. All the schools that competed had a tent next to the bike path that offered shade, food, drink and a pit stop for the bikes.
"I love the community, it's been a great experience, I've been doing it for seven years now and I love it," Obermaier said.
Obermaier said she's been competing for the last seven years with the Donoho team, and has started finishing in the top three this season.
Obermaier will continue her mountain biking next year when she attends Montevallo.
"I signed to race for the Montevallo cycling team next year. It's the first varsity collegiate cycling program in the state of Alabama, and I'm very excited to be a part of it," she said.
The Jacksonville team earned 5th place overall during the championships.
The Cheaha Mountain Mountain Bike Racing Team known as Cheaha Composite finished third overall in Division 2.
Keith Wyatt — who coaches Cheaha Composite along with Wesley Jackson — said Saturday that his team is a blend of students from schools that don't have a mountain bike racing team.
"Any school that doesn't have a team can be on our team. The only schools around here that have a team are Jacksonville, Oxford, Donoho so the rest of the schools come to us," Wyatt said.
Wyatt said the team has been competing for nine years and brought 20 students to compete at the championships. Due to regulations Cheaha Composite was split into two teams — Cheaha Blue and Cheaha Yellow — because of the number of entries.
Cayden Nelson won the JV1 state championship for the Cheaha Blue team. Other finishers for Cheaha Composite include:
— Alyssa Fagan placed 3rd in varsity girls
— Joslynn Ross placed 3rd in freshman girls
— Dea Ross placed 5th in freshman girls
— Zachary Andrews placed 4th in JV2 boys
The Cheaha team came in 3rd place overall.
Oxford High School
Oxford coach Hagan Daniel said that this is the fourth year that Oxford High School has competed. Daniel said the team is a direct descendent of Cheaha Composite.
"They've worked all year real hard, all these teams have, they're coming out here today putting it on the line to see what they can do," Daniel said Saturday.
Daniel said that the Oxford team brought 20 racers to the event and five competed for a state championship.
"This is the first year we're doing a middle school state championship, normally there's two divisions in high school, Division 1 and Division 2. Division 1 is your bigger schools [and] division 2 is your smaller schools and composite teams," Daniel said.
Macie Champion came in second place in the 7th-grade girls category. Neil Shull came in 2nd place in the JV Boys category.
The OHS team came in 13th place in Division 2.
Jacksonville High School
Mike Poe, one of the mountain bike coaches at Jacksonville High School said the team has 14 riders with half being middle school students and the other half high school students.
Poe said the team has been competing for nine years.
Isaac Francis came in 2nd place in the Division 2 varsity category on Sunday.
Poe was complimentary about his team's effort.
"I'm really proud of our kids, they worked really hard and had several that finished consistently in the top ten in the races, or just out of the top ten which is significant because there are as many as 80 or 90 in some of these races," Poe said.
For a complete listing of results: https://my.raceresult.com/242998/
Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.