Oregon League Leaders Summit. April 14-15
Five years ago, I got a photo assignment with Privateer magazine: a month-long California roadtrip. You’ll be forgiven if you don’t remember Privateer. It was a British mountain bike magazine – the dirtbag sibling of the road racing “Rouleur” magazine. It was a dream job of sorts – visit some companies like WTB, Santa Cruz, Kitsbow, Paul components, hang out with originators of the sport – Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Jacquie Phelan, the Laguna Rads. Everyone would want to share their best/hardest trails. It was a miracle we survived the trip, but we did. But the point of me telling you all of this, is that I first became aware of NICA on this trip. If you’re not familiar with NICA, it stands for National Interscholastic Cycling Association. One of the highlights of the trip was to visit a NICA race at Boggs Mountain. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience. First, attendance is strong and secondly the energy is great.
Personally, I had experience with team sports – I played soccer for 8 years until I hit the roadblock that was the structure of school team sports. I lost interest. Enter skateboarding and mountain biking. Both activities were always solo, or done with a small group of friends. We never had coaching – it was all very DIY, which maybe was part of the appeal. But to see this kind of organization and support around cross country racing, for kids no less, was amazing! Teams from all over convene for weekend racing, complete with multiple team tents and mechanics. Parents prepare mountains of food, grills are fired up, feed zones are full of cheering friends and family with sport drinks and gels. The atmosphere is electric.
OK, that’s a lot of background just to tell you that I had my first experience with NICA on that Cali trip and it was extremely positive. I said to myself - what so many folks who come in contact with NICA say - which is: “I wish we had this when I was a kid.” California, which of course is where mountain biking began…well all of those founders had kids, and now those kids are in junior and high school.
NICA began in Northern California in 2001. Well, all the Oregonians that complain about the invasion of Californians forget that we reap the benefit of that exodus – meaning some rad people who got fed up with the difficulties and expense of daily life in Cali, move north and bring with them cool stuff like NICA. Our friends Heather and Kurt Wolfgang are two of those people. Both of these extremely positive, energetic people have coached with NICA in San Fran, and now Heather heads up the Oregon League.
Yes! Oregon just became the 23rd state to have an Interscholastic Mountain biking league. We’re not always early adopters, but we are enthusiastic about cycling and encouraging kids to get outside and play. Heather and Kurt, after a post-honeymoon mountain biking/camping roadtrip spent the summer touring Oregon and recruiting coaches and league teams. This past weekend I had the pleasure of joining the Leaders Summit and I too am now a certified NICA coach! The NICA program is solid – they focus heavily on risk management and creating a fun, safe environment for kids to learn and eventually race mountain bikes. For all the kids that don't fit into the team sports mold, but still want the camaraderie and benefits of a support group. NICA likes to say - there are no bench warmers in high school mountain biking - everyone plays.
Personally, I’m thrilled that this exists and is just more support and structure to get more kids on bikes. If you believe the stories of how NICA has grown over the years, teams of 15 kids the first year become teams of 70 kids a couple years down the road. Think of that! So…cross country racing is not dead, and for anyone wanting to have a way to help shape the future of mountain biking in our state, you now have support and a structure in place to make school teams happen for kids. If you want to see what’s it all about, you can follow them on Facebook and on Instagram or you can even shoot me a note and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.