Mountain Biking Comes to Texas High Schools

By Keri Heath – October 1, 2014
photo by Steve Morton

In recent years, mountain biking has become increasingly popular sport for active adults, and this interest has trickled down to high school kids. Last year, more than 160 student-athletes raced in the Texas High School Mountain Biking League, and even more are expected in the upcoming spring season. 

The Texas League opened its first season in the state four years ago. Four races and a championship are hosted each year at locations such as Reveille Peak and Rocky Hill Ranch. While 40 percent of the league comes from teams in Central Texas (includingWestlake, Austin High, and St. Stephens), there are currently 19 teams statewide. Each year has seen a growth rate of about 55 percent. 

“I was looking for a fast-paced sport that would challenge my body as well as my mind,” said Wes Figg, a senior rider at two-time state champion Lake Travis High School. “I quickly came to learn that mountain biking demands a high level of fitness as well as skill. To me, this sport means combining the outdoors with the spirit of competition.”

One possible reason for the popularity of the sport may rest in the league’s commitment to active participation for all students. Vance McMurry, executive director and founder of the Texas League, said that he decided to bring high school mountain biking to Texas when he watched his son play at a high school football game. It was the only game his son would play all season. 

“That does nothing for your self-esteem,” McMurry said. “So I was trying to find something that integrated my two biggest passions, which are my kids and mountain biking, which was inclusive… You show up; you want to ride; you ride. Everybody counts.” 

More than anything, McMurry stressed that this is a sport open to all riders of any skill level, including students who may not have any biking experience. The races foster a sense of community among the riders, coaches, and their families. Many teams choose to camp at the ranch or park the night before a race for a pre-ride of the course and an evening together. 

“We are helping entire families get involved in working out and spending quality time with their kids,” said Doug Lange, a coach for the Lake Travis team. “We welcome all riders at any level. I started to coach because I love to ride, and I felt we could make a difference with kids at this crucial time in their lives.” 

Mountain biking is traditionally a male-dominated sport. Females make up only 12 percent of total membership for the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), but the high school league has been attracting young female riders. In the first year of high school competition in Texas, only five girls participated; just two years later, in 2013, the number had grown to about 45. Next year, 70 to 80 female riders are expected to participate, as all teams in the Texas League are required to include girl riders before their team can score in competition. 

“I was riding the same stuff the boys were and loving the wind through my hair and the excitement of riding over stuff I had never dreamed of riding over,” said Megan Dawkins, a rider on the Lake Travis team. “This sport means a lot to me because it's something I'll be able to do for the rest of my life. Mountain biking will always be exhilarating and fun, and I'll always be able to get better.” 

There are currently 13 high school mountain biking leagues across the country. Texas was the fourth to form. These leagues fall under the organization of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), which was founded in 2009 and provides coach licensing and stresses trail safety. All coaches are required to attend risk management workshops and become CPR certified, while head and assistant coaches must also be certified in wilderness first aid and pass a safety exam. 

The national goal is for high school mountain biking to be seen like any other youth sport. NICA’s mission aims to promote strong bodies, strong minds, and strong characters in student athletes, much like other popular youth sports. Following this principle, the Texas league focuses on providing a team setting for teens who wish to mountain bike, regardless of skill level. 

“The league provides the perfect blend to teach discipline, attitude on a fun yet competitive atmosphere,” said Ramon Avina, a coach for the Laredo Consolidated team. “[Seeing] how young individuals transform and mature in front of your own eyes as the season goes on….is a powerful experience.” 

The size of Texas also gives the league a lot of future potential. Younger leagues, such as those in Colorado and Utah, already average several hundred students per race. The league has certainly gained national attention, with sponsorships from Clif Bar, Camelbak, Specialized, and, locally, Bicycle Sports Shop.

“The scale of the opportunity we have in Texas is absolutely staggering,” said McMurry. “There will be a day when we have well over 1,000 high school kids racing mountain bikes.

“Something magic happens (when) you put these kids on a mountain bike, send them into the woods, and the world turns around. It is absolutely amazing.” 


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