For the Central Missouri Lumberjacks, Saturday's mountain bike races were about more than just winning.
"It helps build their skills and their confidence," coach Stoney Cranmer said. "You get kids who, when they're starting out, they're really timid about riding anything that looks difficult. And then after they ride it, they realize how much more they are capable of doing."
The youth mountain bike racing team consists of about 17 middle- and high-school students from Mid-Missouri. They joined more than 500 other competitors in grades 6-12 in racing Saturday through Binder Park.
Races along the four-mile course were divided by grade level and gender. High-school boys raced first and were followed by girls and then middle-school boys. Older participants completed up to three laps, while younger participants raced through one. Weather concerns reduced the two-day competition to Saturday only.
Cranmer said the Lumberjacks performed well, despite the dusty trail causing some riders to slide around turns. Individual racers placed between first and 18th in their respective divisions.
Saturday's race was the third of five organized by the Missouri Interscholastic Cycling League, which formed in 2018. All 21 league teams compete in each race.
"Every race is basically the state championship," Cranmer said. "You've got the fastest kids in the state at every race."
Youth mountain bike racing is growing in popularity, Cranmer said. The Missouri Interscholastic Cycling League and United Federation of Dirt, a league for Missouri and Kansas teams, have grown season after season during the past couple years.
Scott Skinner and his 13-year-old daughter, Allison, have been involved with the Missouri league since it began offering races in 2021. Skinner's 11-year-old son, Charlie, also joined the Lumberjacks this year.
Skinner said his son is "getting the real friendship aspect out of it so far."
"It's definitely been wonderful for socialization," he said. "There's something like 500-plus kids involved in this organization now, so it gives our kids a chance to meet kids from all over the state that maybe they wouldn't meet otherwise."
Skinner said he heard about the Lumberjacks through family friends who own Red Wheel Bike Shop, the team's sponsor. Mountain bike racing offers his children the opportunity to learn about competition, hard work and pushing their limits while exercising, he said.
"It's a really terrific thing," Skinner said. "It's been wonderful for our family so far."
Skinner said he'd like to see more children involved, particularly more girls.
Cranmer said "it's been a struggle" to recruit more girls to the team. There are currently two.
"They just don't seem to be interested," he said. "I think they think it's a boy sport."
To overturn those expectations, Cranmer said the team hosts tryout days to showcase what the sport is all about. Those interested in learning more about the team can contact Cranmer directly or through Red Wheel Bike Shop.
The Lumberjacks' next race is Oct. 7-8 at the Fellows Lake MTB Festival in Springfield. The team's final competition, the Tussle at Two Rivers in Highlandville, is scheduled for Oct. 21-22.
Looking to the next race, Skinner said he's just expecting a good time.
"We really like to just be with the other parents and the other families and to have a really good time," he said. "I know that sounds simple, but we really enjoy just the family atmosphere that comes with this sort of thing."