Ever wished your child could compete on a cycling team based at their school? Now they can.
Today the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) announced that Oregon is the latest state to join what is already a bustling league with 800 school-based teams, 14,500 student athletes and 6,000 licensed coaches nationwide. NICA is a nonprofit founded in 2009 with a mission to use cycling as a way to foster a healthy lifestyle for young people in 6th through 12th grades. States with existings programs include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Northern California, Pennsylvania, Southern California, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Heather Wolfgang will be director of the new Interscholastic Oregon Cycling league. Wolfgang recently moved to Portland from the San Francisco Bay Area where she helped grow the Norcal High School Cycling League, which boasts over 1,200 student-athlete members and is one of the largest NICA leagues in the country.
“A lot of people say that they wish they had something like this when they were in high school because of how inclusive and fun it is,” Wolfgang said in a NICA statement. “What we’ll be able to do is bring teens of all abilities, experiences, and backgrounds into the same space to create a truly unique experience. My favorite part of this organization is that we’ll help show teens what they’re capable of through riding bikes. I’m honored to be involved with the Oregon League and look forward to building up our youth cycling community across the state!”
NICA’s Oregon chapter began as a passion project for two Portland-area men who were shocked to find out one didn’t already exist. Camas Bike & Sport Owner Ed Fisher and Portland resident Robert Ping, who has worked to get young people on bikes his entire life and who was recently named executive director of Trips for Kids, met at a meeting of the Northwest Trail Alliance in the summer of 2016. “I was surprised Oregon was the last state in the West without a league,” Ping recalled. With Fisher’s support, he worked for a year to find volunteers, build support for an Oregon league and ultimately, submitted the successful NICA bid.
Bend, Hood River, Oakridge, and Tualatin already have teams in place and are “chomping at the bit” to be a part of NICA.
Ping said in an interview today that 2018 will be a building year; but they’ve already committed to four races next fall. Venues so far include Washougal MX Park and Ski Bowl on Mt. Hood. One of the big things that makes NICA different is they put kids front-and-center. Unlike existing cyclocross and mountain bike races, the teenagers who compete in the Oregon league will be the main event on race day. In fact, they’ll be the only event. “When kids show up at adult races, they’re overwhelmed. Having kid-specific events is much more inspiring and motivating for them,” Ping said.
Ping said he’s recruited about 200 volunteers so far and there’s still a lot of work to do to make the Oregon Cycling League a success in 2018 and beyond. The goal is to have around 200 participants this year. That should be no problem with so much interest in mountain biking across our state already. Ping shared today that Bend, Hood River, Oakridge, and Tualatin already have youth programs and teams in place and are “chomping at the bit” to be a part of NICA.
Eugene and Portland are Oregon’s largest cities, but aren’t expected to produce large teams because of a lack of nearby off-road cycling opportunities. To help remedy that, Ping has been a major booster of the bike park at Gateway Green and is currently on its advisory committee. Gateway Green offers a perfect training ground for Oregon Cycling League hopefuls.
So far this is an all-volunteer endeavor and Ping, Wolfgang, Fisher, and their supporters are seeking to raise $10,000 to help with expenses for the inaugural season. They’re also looking for corporate sponsors. If you’d like to volunteer to help or donate, become a sponsor, or get help starting a team at your school, check out the new website at OregonMTB.org and follow the Oregon Cycling League on Facebook and Instagram.
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