We had the opportunity to speak with Matt Gunnell, SoCal's High School Cycling League Executive Director
on how the 2013 race season is coming along. The first race starts this Sunday, February the 24th. at Vail Lake Resort,
and they will be celebrating their sixth year as one of NICA's Chapter Leagues.
We tracked down Matt Gunnell, fired a few questions his way and this is what he came up with. Matt lays down some knowledge and insight on how 2013 is going to play. So, if you want the inside line on this years race season read-on.
1) Status of registration compared to this time last year? How are the numbers looking?
SoCal is definitely growing. Last year we averaged 265 riders per race. After graduating a bunch of seniors, we’re looking at an average of over 300 this year—meaning we’re looking at about 100 brand-new riders.
2) What is the estimated size and split between boy/girl for the coming season?
We typically have a ratio of about 4:1 in SoCal, meaning roughly four boys for every girl. But, both the boys’ and girls’ fields are growing rapidly every year!
3) Are there many new teams forming?
Last year the SoCal League had 26 teams. This year we will have at least 36 teams, so 10 new teams this year.
4) Any really exceptional stories from any of the teams or student athletes?
There are so many to tell, and it’s very easy to point out our elite-level riders, as they show up at the top of the standings. However, often the most powerful stories and what really sets our program apart are the stories that don’t often make the headlines.
One rider attended our overnight weekend camp last February. I knew this rider had Aspergers and might be stressed at the camp (he absolutely wasn’t), but I had no idea until the next day when his parents picked him up that this rider had NEVER spent the night before. His parents were staying in a nearby hotel, as they expected to get a late-night text when the rider was panicking and asking to be picked up. The text never came.
One rider had pronounced autism. His coach sent us a petition explaining the situation, so we allowed an adult rider to do the race with him each race to keep him on course, as well as helping him off the trail when passing riders came by. This rider had NEVER done anything like this, and it made a big impact on him and his family.
Many of our riders have never done any sport—either they hadn’t found one that worked for them, or they didn’t want to sit on the bench the whole season. Our program has no bench. As long as a rider is willing to fulfill his/her commitment to their team in terms of grades, behavior and workout attendance, he/she has a place at our starting line. And, from a competitive angle, every rider has a couple of friends they make in their field that they race with at each race. It really doesn’t matter what place they’re racing for, they have friends that will push them and high-five them afterwards.
5) What’s the level of competition going to be like?
The level and depth of competition expand every year. We will have great battles at every spot in the field in every race this year. We have an exceptional group of juniors (11th grade) in both our boys’ and girls’ varsity fields this year. This will push our returning senior varsity boys and girls and make for an even deeper battle next season.
6) How is the industry going to be involved in each league?
We have two new bike-industry sponsors in SoCal this year. From the large, established end with Felt Bicycles
and from the up-and-coming end with Orange Seal Cycling
. Felt should have their demo fleet at many SoCal League races, and we will be awarding a new Felt bike to one lucky recipient through an essay contest. With Orange Seal, we will be selling discounted product at our merchandise booth, with all the proceeds going to the League. We welcome bike-industry brands who provide much-needed resources while presenting their products to up-and-coming riding families!
7) With all the negative publicity surrounding Lance and the pro road scene, has there been an impact on the high school cycling scene?
We have rules regarding substance abuse written into our rule book and make sure riders and coaches are aware of those rules. We do our best to make sure our coaches are educated on a well-rounded cycling philosophy. While we do run a competitive racing series, mountain biking in general and our programs specifically are focused as much (or more) on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, having fun riding and getting involved in trail work. Riding is downright run, and we want to help keep it that way.
8) What does it take to put on a high school race, and why is it different from any other mountain bike race?
It takes a LOT of pre-planning and a LOT of volunteers! Our races are for high school student athletes ONLY, which is one of the things that sets us apart from most racing series. You have to readjust your head. Instead of thinking “bike race,” you have to think “high school sport” and go from there. Our courses are designed so that a freshman boy or girl with limited riding experience and fitness has a great chance of being able to safely and successfully finish a race. They are not overly technical, and more advanced riders simply ride faster. Since we are working with high school students, parents and schools, we have risk management floating in front of our faces with everything we do. When you come to a high school race, you’ll find kids and parents cheering for each other; impromptu cheering squads of boys cheering the girls, then girls cheering the boys; a big pit area with team tents stacked nearly on top of each other; parents barbecuing HUGE spreads for student athletes; and almost everyone gathered around the awards ceremony at the end of the day in team T-shirts and sweatshirts.
9) What does it mean to you to be part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA)?
Being a part of a national organization helps bring attention to our sport at a much broader level. It also makes certain things easier in terms of quantities of scale for equipment purchases and visible branding. A great example of this was a message I received from an Orange County-based alumnus who now attends—and races for—Ft. Lewis College in Colorado. On the way home from a collegiate race this past fall, the team van drove past a Colorado High School Cycling League race. Apparently many in the van started cheering and were so stoked to see a well-branded and obvious high school event such as the ones they finished racing in last spring. And on that bus were also alumni from the NorCal League
who race for Ft. Lewis as well.
10) What do the student athletes do to prepare in the early season?
Most teams have several pre-season events, including skills clinics, mechanical clinics and easy, fun rides. Most teams now are incorporating both cross-training (e.g., weights, functional strength training, trail running, stretching, yoga) and spinning into their early-season training. From there they begin incorporating more base training on the bike, as well as intervals, hill intervals and traditional building. Oh, and the occasional post-race BBQ or ride past the ice cream shop on the way home as well.
11) Are schools warming up to the concept of school-based cycling teams?
Slowly but surely—yes. There is still an uneven level of acceptance ranging from public-school principals who are part of the coaching staff to school districts who won’t even listen to us. The good news is that the latter is becoming much less prevalent. One good example of this happened recently when a school district “found out” that a school had an MTB team for several years. Initially they were thinking of disallowing “official” status of the team. After the coaches went and explained everything that goes into their program—the training and the positive effect the program has had on kids—the County Office of Education changed mountain biking to an acceptable activity across the county. This same school is now moving dirt, building the first (that I know of) pump track on campus at a public high school in SoCal.
12) Who coaches the teams, and what training do they have?
Coaches in our teams are all volunteers
. They range from teachers and administrators to parents of riders to mountain bikers with no connection who simply want to share their passion for the sport. We have a comprehensive coach-training program that at least one coach on a team must complete—though we encourage as many team coaches as possible. This includes eight hours of classroom training, eight hours of training in skills and how to teach them, a 16-hour Wilderness First Aid for Mountain Bikers course
, CPR, and 80 hours of work with kids in the context of a high school mountain bike program. Additionally, we require in-service training to keep licenses current and are expanding both our internal web-based classes and our partnerships with synergistic organizations, such as IMBA
and the Positive Coaching Alliance
13) How is team scoring done at the races, and what role do girls play in the overall team results?
Team scoring at our races is coed and is based on either eight (for larger teams) or four (for smaller teams) scoring riders. At least 1/4 of those riders must be “opposite sex,” meaning a team must have both boys and girls to obtain their maximum score. From a scoring perspective, it’s important to have both sexes represented. From a mountain-biking-culture perspective, we recognize that both boys and girls have a place on our trails!
For more information and how you can get involved contact:
SoCal High School Cycling League
34504 Collier Falls Ct.
Temecula, CA 92592