In the month of April, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) experienced another growth spurt. The founder and executive director, Matt Fritzinger, announced his transition from that role to a new one that will focus on special projects around league development.
Then on April 15, for the first time 1,000 NICA student-athletes raced on one weekend in four leagues: NorCal, SoCal, Washington and Texas. A well-attended high school cycling leaders' summit also took place in Colorado; and Utah and Minnesota representatives underwent onsite training at a NorCal race. Added together, all seven leagues were action on the same day.
On top of that, the NICA Booster Fund made its first grant allocations, awarding more than US$10,000 to 17 student-athletes, nine teams and eight coaches from the NorCal, SoCal, Washington and Texas leagues. These grants help offset expenses directly related to participation in NICA league and team activities, including funding for equipment for student-athletes, and travel expenses for coaches and teams. Fall season leagues will have the opportunity to apply for grants this September.
Finally, NICA started accepting nominations from the spring leagues for its annual awards.
NICA's community is growing and thriving as much as ever.
Athlete profile: Sharon Hart (Washington High School Cycling League)
Go to 16-year-old Sharon Hart's family home in Washougal, Washington, and you will find a garage full of bicycles. The entire family rides or races, or has raced, and there's just no room for cars in there. So although she is home-schooled, Sharon Hart, who by age 16 already has three years' racing in her legs, was more than ready for the Washington High School Cycling League when it formed last year.
In the 2011 season, she competed for a team organized by a local bike shop, Camas Bike and Sport, but for the 2012 season, this team affiliated with the new Camas High School team and league rules prevented her, as a home-schooled child, from competing as part of a high school team.
Thinking she would be unable to race in the league this year, Hart prepared herself for other events instead, but was overjoyed when Kevin Brown, her current team coach, decided to form a local composite team. "When I spoke with her father about forming a team and coaching with me, screeches of joy were heard from Sharon. She was more than enthusiastic!"
The only person on the eight-rider team with experience racing in the 2011 season, and with a leader's charisma, Hart quickly stepped into an informal team captain's role on her Columbia River Mashers Team. "Sharon is very social, and I believe this team helps meet a social element for her," said Coach Brown.
This year, the Washington League required Hart to compete in the varsity division, and the commanding lead she holds in the series after three of four rounds suggests this was the right move. "Last year I was close to the top, but two girls were crazy-fast: roadie speed with spinning. I have better technical skills, but was not working enough on strength training. This year one of them is still racing, and I was only 10 seconds behind her in the first race."
For Hart, mountain biking provides a great opportunity for all-round personal development at the same time as having about as much fun as she wants. "It's a really good sport. It's different from others in that anybody can do it. You don't have to be the best, but you can still do it because it's fun, and you'll have so much fun doing it you'll want to do it more and you'll get really good!"
Even though she holds a comfortable lead in the series, Hart still faces challenges in her races, the biggest of which is, "learning to do my best, even if I'm not in the lead. Or not giving up if my legs aren't good that day or if I've had a mechanical. The other day I was not feeling good, I was having a bad race. I got to thinking about it: I have all these guys on my team and my coaches yelling encouragement at me. I had to do my best, these guys were counting on me. They're making the effort to cheer for me, they're doing that for me, so I should do my best for them. It never feels good to know that you gave up just because you weren't feeling good. All they can expect from you is your best."
Her best league results is second in the varsity girls, round 2, 2012 series. She considers her biggest league achievements to be getting upgraded to varsity and finishing second overall last year in the freshman/sophomore category.
Athlete profile: Boone Flynn (Texas High School Cycling League)
At 17 years old, only two years into bicycle competition, Boone Flynn of College Station, Texas, has become the first junior varsity winner of the Texas High School Mountain Bike League.
Mountain biking was Boone's entree to the sporting world. "Cycling is the only sport I am active in," said Flynn, who lists no other sports or sporting achievements in his school resume. Last year, as a mountain bike racer in events around Texas, Flynn heard from Vance McMurry about the NICA system and that he was bringing high school mountain bike racing to Texas. Boone quickly decided that was for him.
"As soon as I heard about the league, my dad and I became very interested. This is my first year in the league and I am loving it!" said Flynn, whose brother Creed finished second to him in this year's JV division.
"Boone was integral in our team formation," said John Flynn, his father and team coach. "Once he found out about the league he was a catalyst to recruit riders and prepare our bye-laws for the high school."
Like mountain Bniking, his A&M Consolidated team seems just the thing for Boone Flynn. "He has been the biggest organizer and is a main line of communication for the team. If someone needs to skip practice or will be late he often knows before I do," said John Flynn.
Not only has Boone taken well to team life, but also his race results have improved. "I have done better in the Texas League races than I have in my previous racing. I think it just comes from setting aside more time to focus on training. Keeping up with some of the other riders is definitely a challenge, I would hate to lose my leader's jersey," he said in an interview prior to clinching the series title.
"I think the sport is great for almost anyone. It's such a great opportunity compete and still have loads of fun on your bike. Racing professionally would be a dream come true, but I plan on racing through and after college regardless."
Boone Flynn's best league results was taking first at the opener, Rocky Hill Ranch Rampage, and his biggest league achievement has been leading the JV boys' category.