By. Jayden Presley
UM’s decision to renovate the former golf course brought forth several different ideas, including the announcement of a new mountain biking team.
Dr. Shawn Mitchell, associate professor in exercise and nutrition science, will be taking the role of head coach. He is a strength and conditioning specialist certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Boasting several degrees in exercise science and clinical psychology, Mitchell is from Denver, Colo. and moved to Prescott, Ariz. when he was nine. Alabama has been his home for nearly 10 years. He is the chair for the Department of Health and Human Sciences at UM.
“Overall, I have been riding bikes for over 30 years,” said Mitchell. “BMX when I was younger, back in the 1980s, and then mountain biking when I was in high school and college. Prescott and the surrounding areas, including Sedona, have a strong mountain biking culture. I have ridden trails in Colorado, Arizona, and California.”
He said his primary disciplines in mountain biking are freeride and downhill riding. For his dissertation, Mitchell examined the physiological characteristics of mountain bikers, as well as the types of training done to increase riding performance.
According to Mitchell, he tried to begin a student-driven cycling club several years ago, but interest was low. Once the Montevallo Golf Club left the property unattended, ideas began to circulate on what could be done with the golf course.
“We have an Outdoor Scholars Program at UM, and one of the ideas that came to mind was to start a mountain bike team and begin to develop the golf course into a premiere riding course,” said Mitchell. “President Stewart became aware of my passion for mountain biking. As the plan for this team began to develop, Dr. Stewart asked if I had interest in being the head coach for this team, and I accepted his offer.”
UM president Dr. John Stewart III said the timing for repurposing the golf course is ideal. He believes the UM faculty proposed “exciting ideas,” like a bird trail and nature rewilding study station.
“I believe a cycling team will benefit current students by giving them another high-level sporting activity on campus,” said Stewart. “Mountain biking should increase our geographic diversity by attracting students from the western United States and other far-flung areas where we do not have robust student recruiting pipelines.”
Mitchell added that the UM community will benefit with new students and majors on campus. The biking trail will be open to students and citizens of Montevallo.
“Our goal is to create a safe environment for hikers, bikers, walkers, etc…to recreate and enjoy the outdoors,” said Mitchell. “Overall, we are working with other faculty and community members to create a sustainable outdoor recreation space.”
Mitchell said the marshy areas of the biking course will be reserved for anyone who would like to enjoy and observe the ecosystems present in the area.
“This will leave the wildlife in the area undisturbed and available to individuals to learn more about ecosystems and local wildlife,” said Mitchell. “We are also bringing in local engineers to help develop the trail system, keeping in mind possible trail erosion on any existing trails.”
Regarding the course itself, Stewart elaborated more on how a mountain biking team will strengthen the area’s economy.
“We can expect to attract as many as 1000 visitors to our community in a weekend for racing events,” said Stewart. “This will undergird the local economy in a way that the golf course was never able to do.”
Scholarships will be offered to members of the cycling team, ranging from $1500 to $3000 depending on skill level and academic prowess, according to Stewart.
“We will begin engaging experts for advice as we transform the golf course into a first-class cycling venue this year,” said Stewart. “Much of the expense to start cycling at UM will be covered by the sale of the golf carts and funds from the president’s office budget for new enrollment initiatives.”
Mitchell’s recruiting process will begin with scouting state high schools; then, he will gradually expand to neighboring states.
“We are going to be the only varsity cycling team in the state,” said Mitchell. “I would love to get as many state riders at UM as possible.”
He said the biking team will be governed by USA Cycling, which is an organization that oversees all recognized collegiate teams and clubs.
Mitchell said the main priority is development of the new trail course before the first season begins, and he explained the early stages of the team’s schedule.
“Honestly, my only goal is to get our roster created and get our riders competing in the Southeastern Cycling Division in the fall of 2022,” explained Mitchell. “The cool thing is that our new riders will help build the trail system. They will be able to leave their mark on our new team.”
Stewart said the biking team grants students in Alabama an opportunity to “invest a great measure of passion” while achieving a Montevallo education.
“I am hopeful that in just a few seasons, we will have students from all over the country enjoying this emerging sport at Montevallo,” said Stewart.