High school mountain biking expands in US

Gary Sjoquist (Minnesota), Vance McMurry (Texas), Matt Fritzinger (NICA), Lisa Miller (Washington).

Gary Sjoquist (Minnesota), Vance McMurry (Texas), Matt Fritzinger (NICA), Lisa Miller (Washington). (Image credit: Paul Skilbeck)

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) added three new Leagues to its high school cycling program: Minnesota, Washington and Texas.

Minnesota enters as an "Emerging League", while Texas and Washington come in at the more developed level of "Project League".

In a press conference at Interbike last Wednesday, Matt Fritzinger, executive director of NICA, said, "We are surrounded by greatness, and in Vance McMurry, Lisa Miller, and Gary Sjoquist, we have three individuals with past records of great success. As organizers and cycling activists they have all the experience and leadership qualities needed to build successful leagues right out of the box."

"Our goal is to provide coast-to-coast mountain biking for student athletes by 2020. We are now ahead of the curve with this goal," said Ben Capron of Specialized Bicycle Components and also acting president of NICA.

Vance McMurry, founding chair of the Texas High School Cycling League, who has worked in two presidential campaigns, said, "I'm super excited. This is the best thing I've ever done. It's certainly the most exciting thing I've ever been involved with. Everybody just wants to help: teachers, parents, engineers, you name it."

The Texas League is aiming to register 200 riders in its first year. With a population of 1.1 million high school students within a 4.5-hour drive encompassing Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, he thinks this is a feasible target. Texas schools will begin competition in Fall of 2011.

Lisa Miller, founding chair of the Washington High School Cycling League, paid tribute to the motivational work done by Matt Fritzinger. "Over a two-year period, Matt helped us put together a team of people (to create the Washington League). Matt was so enthusiastic and had all this great material, it was impossible not to get totally excited about it." Racing for Washington schools will begin in Spring 2011, beginning in the six counties comprising and surrounding the Seattle metro area.

Gary Sjoquist, founding chair of the Minnesota High School Cycling League, which at this time is a Project League, is a former teacher who now works at Quality Bicycle Products. "I've been running a state-wide mountain bike series, and was approached by some big retailers, who were already supporters of the series, who thought we should create a high school league. In the coming year, we will prepare the materials NICA needs us to have in place.

"NICA provides a great template that includes website, coaching, administration - everything you need to run a successful high school mountain bike league. Minnesota already has several good mountain biking venues for a range of skill levels. Our early focus will be on the Twin Cities area, where there are 76 schools and 125,000 secondary school students. For us it's not that heavy a lift; it's a matter of pulling in the resources. I'm determined that this not be a bike culture thing; we're going to spread it out into the larger community."

A new NICA league goes through three stages of development: Emerging, Project, and Chapter.

NICA already has leagues in California and Colorado.

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