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Prep pedaling popularity climbs

Woodcreek and other area high schools embrace club mountain biking
By: Brett Ransford, Special to The Press-Tribune
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Teams from Woodcreek, Folsom, Oakmont, and individual racers from Roseville High School are wheeling attention to the sport of mountain bike racing. The Norcal High School Mountain Bike Racing League was founded in 2001 to promote the formation of teams in local high schools as a bridge for junior racers into the competitive world of cycling. In a season there are five to six races to which 34 California high schools send teams. There are teams in four different divisions - freshman, sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity, and competition is available to both boys and girls. The clubs are independently funded by supportive parents, families, and sponsors. On race-days, parking lots are full. Tents, trailers, and the aroma of healthy buffet style food fill the air in congruence with a positively reinforced environment of racing. Teams and individual racers are awarded points after each race and throughout the season, spanning several months of rain-or-shine spring weather. Folsom High’s team director, Jason McMillen, has been cycling for more than 28 years. His daughter Shasta was responsible for creating the Folsom Cycling Team and presenting it to the Folsom Board of Education. “In a lot of sports kids get selected out at age ten or eleven for travelling teams,” said McMillen. “This is ridiculous because a lot of kids develop late.” “Kids are underrepresented in the traditional sports,” he said. “The bike is a great equalizer. Kids that thought they could never be competitive in anything are showing up on a bicycle and doing amazingly.” Unlike other sports, mountain biking is a fresh take on athletic involvement in the developmental stages of young adults. These clubs emphasize advancement outside normal high school life. Roseville High independent racer Shayna Powless, a freshman, has finished in first place in both varsity races this season. “It’s reassuring in that I’m excited for the years to come to see how much better I can get,” Powless said. Oakmont’s David Cooley also recognizes opportunities available in cycling. “If you have a kid on the margin that’s looking for something to do, but doesn’t quite have the grades, they are still eligible to participate because the league isn’t controlled by CIF,” Cooley said. Woodcreek first started its team in the spring of 2005, and was the first local high school to form a team. “Our program is competition based, that’s what we emphasize, said Jim Winne, the director of the Woodcreek squad. “But we’re hopefully teaching kids to become better cyclists and adopt a healthy culture or lifestyle.” Matt Mazzuca plays both basketball and football for Woodcreek, and is also part of the Woodcreek High School Mountain Biking Club. “I just tried it out last year,” said Mazzuca. “I like it better because it puts all of the pressure on me instead of on my teammates.” Oakmont racer Evan Shorter shares that enthusiasm. “Everything you do is based off of your own performance,” said Shorter. “It’s not like you can get called out to sit on the bench.” Achievements are directly related to individual performance, thus racers are supported by the league’s emphasis on creating an environment of new friendships and role models. “They work with you,” said Wisam Alhamad of Folsom. “They don’t just tell you to come back next year.” There are numbers of students just like Alhamad - young, bright, eager high school students full of energy that need appropriate direction. Kirk Shorter is one of many supportive parents. Along with many families, Shorter helped clarify why students-athletes in this sport are unique. “They’re learning to be self-motivated and they may not get that same support from the school system. These kids are becoming individuals,” he said.