MANCHESTER — When Burr and Burton Academy senior Scott Mooney came to the mountain biking team's first practice of the season, he was stunned to see almost two dozen students at the practice.
"I was really surprised to see the amount of kids coming out for the team," Mooney said. "I expected we have around 10-15 at the most, but to have over 20 was a great surprise to me."
This fall, the BBA Mountain Biking club, held its inaugural season during the fall sports season.
Created and led by teachers Jon Mowry and John Wilson, the club was a huge success in its opening season at BBA.
"Our club had a really productive season," Mowry said. "We had a great turnout of kids participating in our program and we got a lot of great support from the students and their families. It was a great success."
Mowry, a woodworking teacher, and Wilson, a English teacher, created the club last fall.
Both are avid mountain biking enthusiasts, and felt that the sport would be a big interest to kids from Vermont, especially those who don't participate in fall sports.
"We both felt that it would be a great activity for kids to get involved in during the fall season," Wilson said. "There aren't many fall sports offered in Vermont, so we felt why not try and promote mountain biking to the students."
Mowry and Wilson started the club for a few students interested in mountain biking, but became officially certified this year, which helped with getting money from the school board.
Once it became certified, the mountain biking club took off at BBA and 20 students participated during the fall season.
"We promoted our club very heavily," Mowry said. "Flyers, e-mail, social media — the works — to all the kids in the high school and also the 8th graders at [Manchester Elementary Middle School]."
Despite its club status, the team ran like any regular fall sport. The team practiced five days a week, working out around the school and riding around the trails in town, including at Mount Equinox.
Because of the huge amount of kids, Mowry and Wilson added two parents who had mountain biking racing experience as volunteer coaches, Chris Nolan and Scott Thompson.
"The goal was to teach the kids the fundamentals of mountain biking and show them how fun this sport can be," Mowry said. "Our practices were based on training our kids to be the best mountain bikers they can be in every facet of the sport, but also to bond as a team and provide enjoyable experiences with one another."
Only one other high school near Burr and Burton Academy has a team, Rutland. So the Raiders and the Bulldogs would have to find a league on their own to compete in.
What they found was the Lakes Region Interscholastic Mountain Bike Series. BBA raced in the Northern New England High School section, competing against teams from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
For the races in New Hampshire and Maine, BBA traveled an hour to three hours to compete in those events. The school provided the team with transportation to and from the races, but getting the bikes to the events was a different story.
Mowry, Wilson and the other volunteer coaches would take turns driving vans to transport the bicycles, money that came out of their own pockets, Mowry said.
"We were only given a budget of $1,000, so besides some of the things the school was able to give us, we had to go out of pocket on other items for the team," Mowry said.
"As coaches, we would try to go out and find good deals for the kids on bikes," Wilson said. "I think just that part of buying a bike should show how dedicated the kids had to be to be a part of this club and why we were so successful in our first year as a team."
In its first season competing in the NNEHS series, BBA performed above and beyond expectation.
"Our kids really performed better then what we could imagine," Mowry said. "New kids to the sport were able to learn quickly, which was great to see as a coach."
BBA's top rider this season, Scott Mooney, was their most experienced.
The senior captain finished the season as the second best senior bike rider in the league and finished third overall in the series. He raced in the A class, the highest level of competition.
"I was really happy that I was able to have a great season in the club's first [year] at BBA," Mooney said. "The team really helped me become a better rider for sure and also brought some great memories that I was able to share with my teammates."
Mooney, a competitive Nordic skier as well, will focus on trying to ski in college but says he would love to find ways to still compete in mountain biking.
"The amount of fun I had this season being a part of this team, really made me enjoy mountain biking more and more," Mooney said.
Podium finishes weren't the most important achievement during the season, but in the way the team bonded throughout the season.
"I had one of the best times of my life being a part of this team," said freshman Rachel Kimball. "I could never imagine when I decided to join the team that I would make so many new friends and find a new sport to love. I am definitely coming back to ride for the team next season."
The group will try to become a varsity sport next season. So far, Mowry expects more than 20 kids to ride next season, which should help their cause.
"I will never forget this first season we had here at BBA," Mowry said. "We started something from scratch, and made it something worthwhile as a team. That stuff you will never forget."