With its diverse and challenging terrain crossing from rocky deserts to pine covered forests, Arizona is one of the truly great states for mountain biking. Now, it's one of only nine states in the US to have an official high school mountain bike racing league.
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The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) officially announced the Arizona High School Cycling League at Interbike in Las Vegas this past weekend. The Arizona's league's inaugural season will kick off in 2013 with four races, two in the Valley, one in Tucson and one in Prescott.
"Traditional ball and stick sports aren't for every kid," said Mike Perry, executive director of the new Arizona league. "The Arizona High School League gives (students) an alternative outlet to experience high school athletics - the teamwork and camaraderie that they otherwise might miss out on. They come back and say this is awesome, can we do this more."
The Arizona league, spearheaded by Perry along with race director John Shumaker and operations director Chris Stewart, joins fellow programs in California, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington. NICA, the governing body for interscholastic mountain bike racing for grades 9 through 12, has laid out a mission to have leagues throughout the US by 2020.
"We are pleased to welcome the Arizona league into the flourishing NICA community," said Doug Selee, executive director of NICA, in a prepared statement. "Arizona brings with them a great passion for mountain biking and a love of youth development."
The league, whose mission is "to establish and maintain safe, quality high school mountain bike programs for student athletes (boys and girls) and teams from public, charter and private schools in the state of Arizona," is organized to welcome cyclists from any educational setting and any skill level. Teams will be structured in three basic ways: single school teams, composite teams representing a district or region, or individual riders (allowing for those going the home school route).
"Initially, it will be a club sport for most schools, but the ultimate goal is to become an official high school sport," said Perry. "Participation is open to all high schools teams in the state that register with the league. Administrators, teachers, parents, students and/or community members can start a team at their local high school."
The league is in need of coaches and team coordinators to get things started at schools throughout the state and Perry stresses that while a school affiliation is helpful, it isn't a prerequisite.
"A teacher, administrator or volunteer within the school certainly possesses certain advantages such as knowledge of the school community, how to navigate a school system and how to access potential student-athletes, but extensive cycling experience isn't necessary. One should simply have the desire to introduce kids to the sport, and once a the commitment is made to create a team the league can help educate and provide all the basic tools necessary to be an excellent coach."
Four of Arizona's most well known singletrack courses have been tentatively set to host the 2013 season. The race schedule will kick off on Sept. 29 at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, followed by dates at the White Spar Campground in Prescott on Oct. 13, White Tank Regional Park on Oct. 27, and finishing up the year in the Tucson Mountains at Old Tucson Studios on Nov. 3.
Each course will run loops around five miles long with a race's number of laps dependant on the skill level of the cyclist. The league will support four ability levels - freshmen, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity - with team scores being a combination of both boys and girls riders. To help get some of the students familiar with riding in the dirt, the league will be holding up to three skills clinics next summer to emphasize proper skill, technique and a healthy approach to riding and racing.