High school leagues gaining momentum


by Amanda H. Miller
High school racing is getting big in Wisconsin.
High school racing is getting big in Wisconsin.
High school in the fall conjures images of football games, marching bands and homecoming dances. But groups in a couple states are aiming to make it mountain biking season as well.
Organizers are hosting their first races in their first series in Wisconsin and Ohio this month.
In fact, high school mountain biking leagues are developing all over the country. Want to get involved in high school cycling in your area? Click here to read about getting started.
“I wouldn’t say it’s common yet,” said Jeffrey Hansen, Regional Programs Manager in charge of interscholastic programs for USA Cycling. “But it is growing rapidly.”
USA Cycling leagues have sprouted in about a dozen states. The first high school leagues started in Northern California in the early 2000s, and those leagues are now managed by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which has been seeing exponential growth. The next growth spurt for USA Cycling-affiliated high school leagues started in 2009 and there has been significant interest in the last two years, Hansen says. And the growth is significant enough that it will be a big part of the job for a new part-time position USA Cycling is adding to manage the interscholastic cycling programs at the college and now high school levels.
Discovering cycling
Developing high school riding clubs and interscholastic race series helps to bring along the next generation of great riders, Hansen said. Most people don’t discover cycling until college or even later. High school teams can get kids interested in the sport earlier.
That’s one of the reasons Linda Miranda wanted to spearhead a high school race series in Ohio. She and her family, including her three children, have always been avid cyclists and competitors. Her daughter, Holy Name High School senior Samantha Miranda, won sixth place in the junior women's cat 2 race at the this year's USA Cycling Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships.
“That was pretty great,” Samantha said.
But she grew up riding and knew how to get into competitive cycling. She rides against people in different age groups, most of whom are highly skilled and technical cyclists.
High school mountain bike racing is getting underway in Ohio.
High school mountain bike racing is getting underway in Ohio.
“I’m excited to see people my age racing,” Samantha said. “That’s something I haven’t really seen except at Nationals.”
She’s looking forward to getting some of her friends into the sport for the first time.
“I have some friends who were hearing the announcements,” she said. “They knew I rode, so they were asking me about it.”

She said they worried they wouldn’t be good enough and she assured them that the high school league was just about getting out and trying it.
A few of her friends signed up for the first race, which took place over Labor Day weekend.
Kevin Jennings, a junior at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, said he was a little nervous about riding in a race because he wasn’t sure what the competition would be like. But mostly, he was excited about it.
He and friend, Camen Armenti, bought a couple mountain bikes from Wal-Mart two years ago and started riding.
“We got really into it,” Armenti said.
Once their bikes wore out, they bought new ones and started hitting the trails harder and harder.
“We used to say to each other, ‘man it would be so cool to be able to race,’” Armenti said. “And now it’s really happening.”
Two riders from the Miller School of Albemarle
Two riders from the Miller School of Albemarle
Jennings said the two have changed the way they ride since the found out they would have a chance to race.
“It’s not just tooling around anymore,” he said. “It’s great to have it actually organized.”
They have been training harder and even spinning when they can’t get outside.
“But it’s still so fun,” Armenti said. “I never feel like, ‘oh man, I’ve got to go mountain biking.’ I love it.”
First races
Linda said advanced registration for the first race in the five-race series was weak with just a couple riders signed up a week before the race. But she dropped the requirement that racers pre-register, allowing them to show up the day of the event and pay their $12.
“We’ll be happy if we get 10 to 20 riders out for the first race,” she said just before the event.
Mike Strauss, an English teacher and head coach of the shiny new mountain biking team at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, said he expected seven of his students to race.
The brand new Wisconsin Interscholastic Mountain Biking League, WIN for short, is also preparing to host its first ever race on Sept. 28. Organizer Don Edberg said online registrations have been slow to come in there as well. But it’s still early.
More than 60 percent of the riders who participate in the state’s all-ages league – Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) – show up on the day of the ride, he said. The junior division of that series, which includes kids age 14 and younger, has been growing exponentially in recent years. The growth in that age group prompted Edberg and other organizers to decide it was time to start a high school league.
A handful of schools around the state are working to start up cycling clubs and build teams for the races.
The build up
Developing racing leagues takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight, said Andy Guptil, teacher and cycling coach at the Miller School of Albermarle in Virginia.
The private boarding school added cycling to its endurance sports program four years ago and has coached riders who participated in USA Cycling road biking races since then.
There was enough interest in 2011, however, to launch a mountain bike racing series. Virginia’s high school mountain bike league races in the spring and has become increasingly popular every year.
“In our league, we have the longest-running program,” Guptil said. “So, we always bring the most riders – 25 or 26. But the competition is there. Our best riders always have a challenge.”
He said the teams at other schools are usually started by kids who are avid cyclists wanting the chance to compete against their peers. Teams start with one or two riders like that and expand to include all skill levels, even beginners.
The school’s program and the league are both gaining momentum. The team graduated its first member in the spring and the rider is cycling at the University of Virginia this year and preparing to sign a pro cycling contract, Guptil said.
That’s the kind of opportunity Linda Miranda sees in developing a high school mountain bike racing program in Ohio. Her older daughter, Nicole, also races. She has an athletic scholarship at Brevard College in North Carolina, something Linda thinks might be available to more kids if they only knew biking was an option.
“There are a lot of scholarship opportunities, especially because there aren’t that many people out there yet who are competing for mountain biking scholarships,” Linda said. “We want to make mountain biking a recognized high school sport in Ohio.” Beyond creating opportunities for the top-level athletes on these newly forming teams, the leagues are introducing kids to biking.
A lot of the students Strauss has seen show interest don’t come from cycling families or backgrounds. They’re showing up on cheap bikes from big box stores and going for it. He’s been working with a local bike shop to see about getting help to put kids on better bikes for racing. He’s hopeful that kids who have been tooling around on their BMX bikes or who used to ride around the neighborhood when they were younger will realize this could be their sport.
“The thing with riding is, it’s like cross country,” Strauss said. “Everyone can participate. It’s creating a lifestyle, a skill they can carry with them throughout their lives. If you don’t play football in college, high school is it. But you can always ride a bike.”

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