In a shift that bucks the trend in sports participation statistics, the participation of girls in the Northern California (NorCal) High School Mountain Bike Racing League increased 50% over last year, compared to a 10% increase in the participation of boys, who saw their number grow substantially a few years ago.
The League's executive director, Matt Fritzinger, is delighted by the growth. "I'm totally in awe of this phenomenon and can't fully assume credit for this. I think the girls are just catching onto something. I know that every step of the way, our assistant director, Nadine Budbill, has ensured our programs are attractive to girls, nevertheless, I'm amazed by this rate of growth," he said.
Fritzinger paid tribute to the work of coaches, parents, and partners such as the Luna Chix Ambassadors and the Subaru Gary Fisher Pro Team, all of whom have been supporting the female league membership.
Nicola Cranmer, general manager of the Proman Women's Cycling Team, commented on the benefits of competitive cycling for young women. "Participating in cycling and racing at an early age helps young women develop not only riding skills but self confidence, focus, team work and camaraderie."
Participation of girls rose this year from 50 to 80 girls in the NorCal League. Feedback from these girls suggests that the reasons for joining in include new opportunities, confidence enhancement, sisterhood, and desire for a healthy outdoor hobby.
"I think it is excellent that girls are now starting to invade mountain biking and are creating a space for themselves in the sports world," said Aviva Prager of Albany High.
"The NorCal League has changed my life by providing an opportunity that is virtually nonexistent elsewhere. I was not a biker before I entered high school, and I didn't even know that biking could be considered a sport. Without my school's team and its part in the League, I never would have picked up such a great sport," said Laurn Catlin of Drake High.
One method of increasing the girls' participation has been girls-only camps, which prepare students for what to expect during the course of a race or recreational ride, thereby removing some considerable obstacles to participation. The anecdotes of attendees suggest that they have been popular.
"The girls' skills camp, before the racing season started, was the highlight for me this year. It really helped me learn the basic skills, especially because it was my first year. At the camp, the coaches taught me that biking is not just about winning, it's about pushing yourself, but also making sure it's fun," said Lauren Freudman.
Fritzinger is hoping to see even more girls in the League in 2009. With Budbill moving to Vermont to build a girl's mountain bike camp program, he is looking for an assistant director going into the next season.