They’re coming down out of the mountains and back from desert treks to fuel the movement to provide a new sport for Arizona high schools to embrace.
Mountain bikers in Arizona just completed an inaugural cycling league that, from all appearances, turned out to be a successful launch of a fast-growing sport among high schoolers. The Arizona High School Cycling League (AHSCL), based in Scottsdale, started last fall with the second-most participants of any first-year program across the country. Founding chair and executive director for the new organization is Mike Perry.
Competitors in single-track racing have to deal with rocky, narrow trails sometimes less than a couple of feet wide. The course can wind through loose rock, up steep elevations, and even cross shallow runs of water.
But despite its rigors, the sport is attracting participants who have no athletic background and, in many cases, have no racing experience. That’s the beauty of the sport, say its organizers – and it’s drawing girls to an otherwise male-dominated competition. Currently, approximately 20-25 percent of the participants nationwide are female.
And the Arizona league is finding coaches from the sport’s fan base of enthusiasts. Several examples… the team representing Bradshaw Mountain High School was coached by Tracy Madler, the mother of one of the participants and the school’s chemistry teacher. The Chino Valley High School team was coached by a mother/father team, and at Precott High School, it was a cycle shop owner.
All three teams finished in the top 10 of the 26 teams that formed the first league. Prescott High came in second behind Tucson High Magnet School and Chino Valley and Bradshaw Mountain finished with 74 points apiece to tie at seventh place. Cactus Shadows High School took third, followed by Buena High School and El Grupo High School Composite rounding out the top five.
The field of 26 teams represented schools from every AIA division, from the smallest to the largest, and were found in communities from all over the state. The sites for the four races that comprised the inaugural season, which ran September through November, were scattered around the state and included McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, White Spar campground in Prescott, and White Tank Regional Park on the western edge of Phoenix.
Individual competition was divided into boys varsity level and JV girls. Christian Santa Cruz from the El Grupo Composite team took first place in the boys division, followed by Cal Skilsky from Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson and Clayton Stone from Boulder Creek High School in Anthem. Duncan Keenan and Sam Wilson rounded out the top five, with Keenan representing Tucson High Magnet School and Wilson riding as an independent.
On the girls’ side, Phoebe Teskey at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy finished ahead of the JV pack, followed by Sabrina Bice from Lake Havasu High School and Bradshaw’s Heidi Madler in third. Madler’s teammate, Rachel Medevielle, and Nicole Linebaugh from Chino Valley rounded out the top five.
Arizona is one of five states that are members of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), which was founded in 2009, and is one of the most recent states to form a league; the other is Tennessee, which also just finished its inaugural season. With the addition of these last two states, there are 10 leagues operating in nine states.
According to the association, there are 1,795 registered student-athletes participating and the group’s goal is to have cycling programs operating from coast to coast by 2020.
NICA is in the process of raising funds to be able to provide scholarships for those who would like to participate but are unable due to financial constraints. “We’d love to lower the barrier to entry for coaches in inner-city areas, and if providing scholarships is what it takes to do that, then we will work to provide scholarships,” says the NICA executive director, Austin McInerny, from the organization’s Berkeley, Calif., headquarters.
“One of the foundation principles of NICA is inclusivity, which means we make our services available to people across the whole economic spectrum.”