With the first week (or more) of school in the books, this past Saturday, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association kicked off its second season of mountain bike racing with the Virginia High School Cycling League at the Miller School of Albemarle. Now most of you know that a day at the races for Foghorn usually means a cooler full of beer, a megaphone and a litany of obscenities that would make a sailor blush. And you also know that a fine, upstanding institution like the Miller School spends about 364 days per year trying to keep people like me off the grounds. Saturday was different.
I was able to accompany Little Miss Leghorn to her first race with about 220 other 6th to 12 graders, representing 20 teams from across the state. Now you likely won’t find your neighborhood high school colors flying here, as many of the teams are “collectives,” representing a group of riders from a certain geographic area, and from several different high schools, middle schools and even home schools. Truly a slice of American pie, the full socio-economic spectrum is represented.
I was able to catch up with Ann Hardy, lifelong cyclist, matriarch of Richmond cycling and coach of Chesterfield’s Chain Gang team, in the feed zone. Between handing off water bottles and cheering on her riders as well as many others, she gave me some insight as to how she became involved in NICA and the Virginia High School Cycling League. Hardy learned about NICA at a cycling conference in Minnesota, so when the decision was made to start a Virginia league, she jumped at the opportunity to develop the sport and build trail advocates. When asked about the success of the program, she described it as “A win-win.”
On the competitor level, sportsmanship appeared to be overflowing. Everybody cheers for everybody. My pre-ride with Ms. Leghorn was a disaster. Mud, hills and pre-race jitters were not included in our 10-week training program around the Williamsburg area. As we sorted out the frustrations on the course, passing riders peppered us with encouragement.
I found 10th-grader Jaquise Winston fist-bumping a rival from the East-Coasters/New River Valley team whom he had just out-sprinted for second place in the boys sophomore division. The two had battled before, with the opposite result. Jaquise races for Craig Dodson’s Richmond Cycling Corps team, comprising boys and girls from Richmond’s Armstrong High School and MLK Jr. Middle School, the only inner-city team in the league. When asked about cycling as a metaphor for life, Jaquise had this to say: “It’s like, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs, but you are always supposed to finish strong.” Well played, young man.
As is typically the case with youth sports today, the parents are all in, as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find the scene slightly toned down from the “hyper-caffeinated parents fretting over their kids split times,” as jokingly described to me on the way to the event. I personally made three coffee stops over the 90 mile trek.
Paul Croft, father of reigning U16 Short Track National Champion Adam Croft, chatted with me about what it takes to bring up a rider at the elite level of not just state, but national mountain bike racing.
“It certainly takes a lot of time, traveling to races… but it is certainly a lot of fun. I am really enjoying it,” he said.
Paul seemed relaxed and composed as Adam battled it out for a podium spot in the varsity division. Adam is a home-schooled sophomore, racing for the 18-rider-strong Colonial Revolution team out of Williamsburg. Home-schooling, while not a racing-related decision, allows the flexibility to put in some serious training miles.
NICA and the Virginia High School Cycling League have everything you need to get your kid off the gridiron, the pitch or the couch & into mountain biking. Wanna become a coach? They can help you do that, too. Can’t find a team? They can help you start one. Check them out at www.virginiamtb.org.