YOUNGSTERS LIVING in one of Glasgow's most deprived areas have been denied the chance of becoming mountain biking champions after having pound;13,000 of bikes and equipment stolen.
The Scottish Cross Country Schools Series runs from March to September, with a race every month in a different location.
The Haghill Dirt Dawgs, based at Haghill Primary in the city's east end, were due to race at Gleniffer Braes in Paisley with around 200 other pupils from Scottish schools. But they were forced to pull out because a trailer containing the club's 14 bikes was stolen from a playground, destroying their chance of winning the series.
This is the second year in a row the Dirt Dawgs have suffered disappointment. Last year, the club couldn't afford transport and, having been declared champions in 2005, was unable to defend its title.
On June 22, it was a normal day at Haghill. Then just before 9am, as parents dropped off their children and pupils cavorted in the playground, six or seven men in two vans entered the grounds and told the janitor, who had only been in post for two days, that they were there to pick up the Dirt Dawgs' trailer. The janitor believed them and the thieves made off with 14 bikes, helmets, tools and spare parts valued at pound;13,000 in total.
"I was devastated when I heard that the janitor waved goodbye to pound;13,000 of equipment," said John Herbert, a teacher at neighbouring Parkhill, and founder of the club and the school mountain biking championship.
By Tuesday, the trailer had been recovered by Strathclyde Police. But it was too late for the youngsters to compete and around Pounds , of equipment five bikes, including Mr Herbert's Pounds , road bike is still missing.
Mr Herbert set up the club five years ago when he was a teacher at Haghill. Every Sunday, whatever the weather, he and six youngsters dive into the wilds of Scotland.
"The club was formed to show these kids there is an alternative to hanging around street corners and that being healthy can be fun," he said. "They have never seen anything but sandstone buildings and streets. It's a completely different way of life compared with anything they have experienced, and they love it."
Club members get the chance to see Scotland, broaden their horizons and learn about nature. They are also positively influenced, Mr Herbert says, by mountain biking culture, which means being courteous to other riders and lending a hand if someone is in trouble.
The club was slow to get off the ground but, as word spread about the Sunday excursions, demand grew and Mr Herbert was forced to stop taking on members. The club has around 20 members, aged nine to 15. Sunday riders are on a first come-first-served basis.
Last year, the youngsters were dealt a blow because transport to races was unaffordable. "They contribute every week to travelling expenses," said Mr Herbert. "I can't ask them to contribute more because they don't have it."
This year, however, funds were in place and the club was set to reclaim its title. Then their bikes were stolen.
"These kids are the future of cycling," said Mr Herbert. "In Glasgow, we want to host the Commonwealth Games. The athletes who compete will be around the age of these kids. How bad does it look that we are stealing bikes from our own children?"
The Haghill Dirt Dawgs will continue to take part in the SXC Schools Series and are racing in August at Drumlanrig.
Anybody interested in supporting the club should contact John Herbert at Parkhill School. T 0141 554 2765