Cycling team bringing all sorts of people together

MORGANTOWN — A startup program for young West Virginia cyclists has quietly been building momentum over the last few years and emerged as its own league that began in July. In that time, the Morgantown Trail Hawks made a name for themselves, placing second in the league’s opening race recently in Charleston.
One of the grassroots members of this burgeoning league is Morgantown High teacher Jessica Harmening, who revealed the hard work and dedication it has taken to form the West Virginia Interscholastic Cycling League.
The initial idea began with the inspiration of three-time national biking champion, WVU grad and league director, Cassie Smith, who wanted to bring her love cycling and love for the Mountain State together.
After a few years raising money, recruiting supporters and holding extensive coaches training, Smith helped West Virginia become the 22nd state to form a league under the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. Currently, West Virginia has 11 teams in the league and Harmening, who serves a director and coach of the Trail Hawks, said her team is a mix of every kind of cyclist you can find.
“I have kids on my team who range from sixth to twelfth grade, they’re home-schooled, from public and private schools,” she said. “They are from all schools in the county, so it’s a very interesting and fun mix of kids.”
Harmening was initially recruited by Smith because they shared a passion for cycling and Harmening, at the time, ran a cycling club at South Middle School — her former school — in Morgantown. While the initial turnout wasn’t overwhelming for her new team, Harmening said it grew tremendously through the summer.
“We started our preseason in May and our season officially started in July,” she said. “I’ve had kids trickle throughout the season. We originally started with a dozen and now were up to 33 and I still get calls about once a week for kids interested in joining.”
The new league was able to secure four venues across the state that met the national league’s requirements which include Big Bear Lake Camplands in Bruceton Mills, Little Creek City Park in South Charleston, Watters Smith Memorial State Park in Lost Creek and North Bend State Park in Cairo.
And as most are familiar with the West Virginia terrain, the courses are anything but average, and Harmening believes that’s one reason why there’s been such a growing interest thus far.
“It’s all cross-country riding and the races are two-day events for a lot of people so they camp out,” she said. “Our first race at Big Bear was canceled because of rain, but last week, it rained as well, and the kids just rode their hearts out. Everything was muddy, the kids, the trails and they were just loving it. Didn’t have a single kid complain.”
While her team placed second in the high school division, Harmening emphasized the mission of the organization, which is “to build strong minds, strong bodies, and strong character.”
“The beauty of it is we have a league that’s aimed toward beginners but also suit some riders with experience,” she said. “It’s not necessarily competition-focused like most school sports, it’s more focused on character building and working on goals. One of our main goals is we want these kids to take away a life-long love of cycling.”
For a league that’s fairly new and just in the beginning stages, Harmening stressed the importance of community support and volunteers for these kids on this new journey.
“Anybody can volunteer. There is no experience required,” she said. “It takes 60-plus people to pull off the races. The more people that are willing to come out and support these kids, the better the experience for them will be.”
The Trail Hawks will compete again Saturday and Oct. 21. Visit for more information.