Cassie Smith, a West Virginia University physical education graduate (1993), is passionate about getting people outdoors to become more active. As director of the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League, Smith counts on dedicated coaches and other volunteers as the key to the success of the WV National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Celebrating five years in the Mountain State, Smith says establishing WV NICA is a huge accomplishment. “Not only are we seeing more kids on bikes, but we are recruiting parents as coaches. In five years, we grew from 130 athletes and 50 coaches to 405 athletes and more than 200 coaches,” Smith said.
Smith, from Aldie, Va., says that the organization offers families an activity that is healthy and fun that they can do together. “WVICL stands out above other organizations because we are all-inclusive. No one sits the bench. We love to recruit parents as coaches,” she explained. “You don’t have to be a mountain biker to become a coach. We make mountain bikers out of anyone.”
Community support is critical to the success of the league. “We have been fortunate to have great relationships with WV State Parks. West Virginia is known for terrific mountain biking, but we have very few trails designed for beginner mountain bikers,” Smith said. “WVICL is helping to change that.”
Smith formed a partnership with the WV Department of Natural Resources in the group’s first year of becoming a league, seeing that as a crucial strategy to develop race venues. “WVDNR funded the design and build of five NICA approved trails in five different state parks. This gave us a place to host races and created locations for teams to practice,” she said. “These sites are heavily used by other beginner mountain bikers. Because of league growth, we are currently exploring additional venue ideas.”
Smith’s enthusiasm for being active and motivating others to do the same were the qualities that helped her decide on the WVU physical education program. “I loved being a student at WVU and appreciated the fun programs and activities that were offered to us as students. It was a great way to meet like-minded folks and make enjoyable memories,” she said. Her favorite activity while at WVU was to hike and camp at Coopers Rock State Forest.
Smith tells students who are thinking about degree options at WVU CAHS to “go for it.” She says that the benefits are undeniable. “It’s rewarding to be able to instruct or coach someone and watch them connect and show improvement. Being an NICA coach for the last five years has been amazing. Students who started with the league as beginner mountain bikers five years ago are now athletes.”
Over the next five years, Smith envisions helping underserved areas in West Virginia get teams started to offer the program to more students. “I’d also like to secure funding that will help sustain the future of WVICL and the volunteers who run the organization,” she added.