Training ground: Outdoor Chattanooga launches Interscholastic Climbing League

Authored By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

Southeast Tennessee’s mountain ranges are a masterpiece of exposed rock, ridges and canyons-the result of erosion-that call to rock climbers. Known throughout the world as a rock climbing capital, it seems only natural to teach youngsters who live in the region how to enjoy this lifelong sport.

That is just what Outdoor Chattanooga aims to do with its recently launched program, the Chattanooga Area Interscholastic Climbing League. The league provides a competitive climbing program for high school students (grades nine through 12) in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. No previous experience is necessary-the only requirement is that students participate on a public, private or homeschool team.

“The Interscholastic Climbing League is a way to get youth introduced to and involved in the sport of rock climbing,” said Terri Chapin, Outdoor Chattanooga’s recreation programs coordinator. “It’s more likely to attract youth because it is a student-driven organization.”

In its first year, the Interscholastic Climbing League already has more than 100 student participants through teams that have formed at the following schools: Brainerd High School, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, Chattanooga Christian School, Girls Preparatory School, Howard School, Ivy Academy, McCallie School, Ridgeland High School, Sewanee St. Andrews and Signal Mountain High School.

Rock climbing is known for building both physical and mental strength, as well as confidence. It’s also a great way for kids to spend time outdoors.

“You can climb your whole life-it’s a great, healthy sport,” said Chapin, who formerly coached Chattanooga-area teams that participated in a Knoxville league. “The league works to capture the kids that would not have sought it out, and it’s a great way to get people started in rock climbing.”

The instructional league is supported by Chattanooga’s three commercial climbing gyms, which provide training ground for those who aspire to climbing outdoors: the Tennessee Bouldering Authority, Urban Rocks Gym and High Point Climbing and Fitness.

Though they don’t appear on traditional maps, notable outdoor rock climbing sites include Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain; the Tennessee Wall (or T Wall) in Dayton; Stone Fort (AKA Little Rock City) on Mowbray Mountain above Soddy-Daisy; and Foster Falls in Jasper.

Chattanooga’s climbing gyms are offering a special rate for teams within the league that enables them to have a place to practice. Outdoor Chattanooga also has a traverse wall that teams can use. All equipment is provided, and no experience is necessary on the part of climbers or coaches.

“This is an instructional league,” Chapin said. “Outdoor Chattanooga provides the information and training, and we have been running introductory climbing and belay classes.

“Student climbers learn to belay one another, and the atmosphere is one of encouragement,” she said. “Each climber chooses their own climbing routes, and routes are scored according to difficulty.”

The first of six Chattanooga Area Interscholastic Climbing League meets will take place Nov. 1 and will continue into February.

As the league gains momentum, Outdoor Chattanooga aims to coordinate regional competitions with Knoxville and Atlanta schools. In addition, as students gain experience in rock climbing, they can grow to participate in nationally sponsored meets held at area climbing gyms.

The Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga have launched a scholarship fund for participating students in the 2014-15 school year. Volunteers are also needed to help belay students and get the league kicked off.

To learn more about how to get involved in the Chattanooga Area Interscholastic Climbing League, click here.

Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about family travel adventures in the southeastern United States, as well as the people and places that make the Southeast unique. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.