Matt Fritzinger: Schooling the next generation

By Gary Boulanger, Bike Radar

Children are facing mounting pressures from society. For many in the United States, their main outlet is organized sports. But what if a child doesn't fancy basketball, football, baseball or soccer? The NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, headed by Matt Fritzinger, offers riding and racing opportunities for youths.

Illinois native Fritzinger decided to change things 10 years ago, and the fruits of his labour are evident in the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, based in Berkeley, California.

The 37 year-old former high school teacher dabbled in pole vaulting, cross-country running and swimming in his hometown of Libertyville, but was mediocre at best. It was his time spent on the Northbrook velodrome near his house that had the greatest impact on his earlier athletic career. Cycling was enough to scratch the athletic itch in Fritzinger, who spent two years racing for the collegiate cycling team at the University of California-Berkeley in the 1990s.

Bike Radar sat down with Fritzinger at Drake High School in San Anselmo, California, at the conclusion of his annual Leader's Summit. The congenial cyclist had just returned from a ride on the fabled trails of Camp Tamarancho in nearby Fairfax, birthplace of the modern mountain bike. We discussed the past, present and future of the League, as the long shadow of Mount Tamalpais loomed over the parking lot.

BikeRadar: Tell me about the genesis for the NorCal league.

Matt Fritzinger: Several things came together. Bike racing became a big thing for me in college at UC-Berkeley but, due to an injury, I couldn't ride for five years, so I needed to find other things at that time. I went from becoming a mechanical engineer to becoming a school teacher. I was finally strong enough to race a bike during my earliest years of teaching. I was getting my teaching credentials at night, so I was able to get serious about bike racing again during that period.

I became envious of other teachers who were getting out of staff meetings to go coach basketball, baseball or other sports, so I decided to start a bike club at Berkeley High School 10 years ago. The original plan was to start a road team, but it made more sense to launch with a mountain bike team.

It was during those early years that I was gaining ground as a Category 3 racer, achieving a long-term goal of racing in Northern Italy for an entire summer in 2000. I had the fitness, health (and enough money) to get the life-of-a-pro experience at a legit cycling camp. My coach was Ron Palazzo at the Velo Veneto Camp. It was the first time I'd ever had a coach. He was (and still is) an amazing coach. He inspired me to become a true coach in every sense of the word.

The 10-week experience in Italy opened my eyes to how a whole community gets behind a sport - families, local businesses, etc. So when I returned to California, I didn't have another goal beyond teaching. I started working on the plan for the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League in the fall of 2000. By the spring of 2001 we launched our first six-race series. By the end of our first season four teams had organized themselves.

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