Big hair, big oil, cactus, cowboys, that distinctive twang... Bikes aren’t the first thing you think of when you hear “Texas,” but perhaps one day they will be. Young people are the lifeblood of sport, and on a more fundamental and sweeping level, of change. The handful of Texas cyclists and bike shops that set the wheels in motion for a program for high school students to learn about and compete in mountain biking went a long way toward accomplishing something for the cycling masses at large: a rosy future.
In spring 2012, the Texas High School Mountain Bike League became the fourth active high school mountain biking league in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), where the concept first took root in Northern California in 2001. The NORCAL League now averages around 700 student athletes per race. The Texas league, in its first year of operation from 2012 to 2013, experienced a 40% growth overall and a 400% growth in female members, with an average of 25 girls and 75 boys competing at state races last school year.
The mission statement of the High School Mountain Bike League reads, “Building strong minds, strong bodies and strong character in Texas youth.” Executive director Vance McMurry, one of the driving forces behind the Texas program, says mountain biking was simply the means the founders of the league chose to accomplish that mission—the league is first and foremost a youth development organization. Along with learning how to bunny-hop an obstacle and change a flat tire, students learn life skills, social skills, self-sufficiency, and what it’s like to be part of a team in which everyone contributes.
Race weekends, which take place four or five times during the school year, have a community feel. Organizers lay out the course on Friday, and students and their families pre-ride the course together on Saturday. They camp out on-site that night and wake up the following morning to race. Everyone seems to know everyone else.
“It’s that culture that is so powerful,” McMurry says. “It’s that community that we bring for high school kids, and the social aspect of the sport that really makes a difference in their lives.”
|Lake Travis High School Team, Winner of the State Championships 2013|
Typically, most high school teams practice twice a week and once on the weekend. Student athletes race in three categories: varsity, JV, and freshman/sophomore, with separate divisions for girls and boys. All gender and experience-based categories start separately. The course design is usually a loop of four to six miles, and race organizers vary difficulty by category with the number of laps.
Students come from many different backgrounds and ability levels. Top finishers are rewarded with leaders’ jerseys, medals, and call ups to the line, but a rider doesn’t have to make the podium to be recognized or contribute to a team’s overall placement. Each rider who participates in a race earns points for his or her team. Vance says race organizers and student athletes are supportive of every student who crosses the finish line, from the first to the last.
Teams must have girls on their teams to score at a race, which encourages the recruitment of female members. Outside of the high school league, very few teenage girls compete in mountain biking. TMBRA, the Texas Mountain Bike Racing Association, tends to average two to three female competitors on a high school level. Last year, 25 girls competed regularly in the Texas High School Mountain Bike League race series.
This August, the fall league will start back up, but at the moment, many of the students in the Texas league are anxiously awaiting the 2013 Ft. Lewis College Summer Camp. The camp, which runs from July 29 to August 3, combines trail riding with skill sessions and talks from guest speakers like pro riders, Olympians, and pro bike mechanics. Students eat meals together and stay in the Ft. Lewis College dorms. Twenty-four Texas students are scheduled to attend.
Ever wondered what it would have been like to get started in cycling a little earlier, how far you could have taken it? It’s nice to think that the next generation of Texas cyclists won’t have to leave it up to the imagination.
How to get involved:
- Volunteer for races or committees – Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about volunteer positions.
- Start a team - Teams can be any size. Administrators, teachers, parents, students and/or community members can start a cycling club at their local high school (public or private). Cycling experience is not necessary. Once you have decided to create a team, the League will provide educational resources and information on the NICA Coaches License Program.
- Donate gear
- Donate money – Use the PayPal link on the league website or make a PayPal payment via email to Vance McMurry at email@example.com. Mail checks to 1811 Real Catorce, Austin, TX 78746.
Check out the Texas High School Mountain Bike League on their website, http://www.texasmtb.org/, or on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/txhsmtb
2014 Race Season:
- Coaches Conference / Leaders' Summit: 12-13 Oct 2013
- Reveille Peak Round Up: 8-9 Feb 2014
- Rocky Hill Rampage: 22-23 Feb 2014
- Race #3, TBD
- Race #4, TBD
- State Championships at Reveille Peak: 10-11 May 2014
Other state leagues: