Feature on high school MTB league in today's SF Chron
This morning's SF Chronicle (2/12, Outdoors page of the sports section) had a story on the high school MTB league scene, with a couple pics of Tamarancho. I couldn't scare up a link on SF Gate.
The story featured a quote from our own Berkeley Miguel, who I often see tearing up the Marin singletrack with his team. He noted that one of the benefits of mountain biking, aside from exercise, was the ability to 'free the mind.' This, from a 15 yo kid. You've done something right there, Berkeley Mike!
Who says youth is wasted on the young...cheers to all the young racers out there, and their parents!
If there are two things that seem to have an affinity for each other they are kids and dirt.
Throw in a mountain bike, and you're about halfway to childhood nirvana.
Or at least that's the way it appeared to be when a bunch of high-school kids were tearing up the fire roads and single tracks in and around the Tamarancho Boy Scout Camp in Fairfax this past weekend.
And the sloppy conditions brought on by recent rains only seemed to enhance the experience, as the grins - as well as mud-splattered clothing and begrimed bikes - were evident when the mixed-gender group of teenagers pulled into the camp headquarters for a mid-day lunch break.
These kids, maybe a couple dozen all told, were part of a preseason training camp put on by the NorCal High School Mountain Bike Racing League, which is entering its ninth season this spring.
"This is a really different sport than the other ones I do," said Sofia Hamilton, a 16-year-old sophomore at Drake High in Marin County. "The other sports I do - swimming and water polo - are more intense. Mountain biking is a more fun way to compete; it's more low key and there's a good sense of community. You go to the starting line and everyone's really friendly."
Miguel Mejia, a 15-year-old sophomore at Albany High in the East Bay, enjoys the mental and physical aspects of the sport.
"It lets you get outside and get some regular, healthy exercise," said Mejia, who runs cross-country in the fall. "It also frees the mind a bit.
"And you're not just another student - you're a mountain-bike racer!"
All of which is what Matt Fritzinger had in mind when, as a math teacher at Berkeley High a decade ago, he started the mountain bike league "on a whim."
"I wanted to see if the kids were interested in bike racing," he said. "And I picked mountain biking over road racing because ... Well, image a hundred freshmen on a starting line. Do you want them on (an asphalt) road going 30 miles an hour? Or do you want them going uphill on dirt?"
From a "bunch of kids on mountain bikes," as Fritzinger calls the original free-wheeling days back in Berkeley, the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League has evolved into a tight conference of 500 or so athletes, one-fifth of whom are female, and nearly 40 teams, which represents about 10 percent of the high schools in Northern California.
"There's obviously room for growth," Fritzinger said.
But expanding the league is not Topic A among Fritzinger and his six-person staff ("We're just managing the growth we have," he said). Putting on quality mountain bike races is. And that's not an easy task.
"We're in sore need of venues," he said. "We need to be on public land. We need (racing) trails that are not too risky but still fun. We need parking for about 500 cars. We need basic facilities. It's not like we can go somewhere and have someone build" a stadium.
This year's schedule is a case in point. There are five races on the docket, but only four of them have a designated racing site - Monterey, Folsom, Fort Ord and Boggs Mountain. The fifth is "to be announced."
"We have unique needs," Fritzinger said.
But Fritzinger believes they'll somehow muddle through. And to most, the headaches are worth it.
"I've seen the added-value the league brings to the kids' lives," said Austin McInerny, who took over as Berkeley High coach six years ago when Fritzinger made being commissioner a full-time job. "Not only athletically, but in their lifestyles as well. I've seen them improve in school. They've become better students because we require them to maintain a certain GPA to continue with the team."
McInerny, like Fritzinger a former amateur bicycle racer, says that the most important facet of the mountain bike league is the improvement of many youths' self-esteem.
"I've been through two groups of these kids and they know something good has happened in their lives," he said. "Mountain bike racing has paid off for them."
Being able to play in the mud is pure gravy.
E-mail Dan Giesin at email@example.com.
It is probably the most apt and comprehensive articleI have read about the League. Too often an article will over-wax on saving youth and such but the tone changed here and spoke of the effect on kids as "value added" which I think is much more accurate. This one talked about how the League has to interact in the world and it's challenges. So many of the issues are akin to advocacy issues.
Miguel had a great time at the Level 2 Camp for second-year and experienced racers. He got to ride with Mary McConnelough and a number of pretty high profile racers at Pine Mountain and Tamarancho. I helped with registration and helmet fitting. No way I could hang with these riders.
Thanks for the heads-up, Quercus.
Last edited by Berkeley Mike; 02-12-2009 at 06:32 PM.
too good to be true
I think it is important for people to know the side of the league that isn't all rosy and good feelings. Matt Fritzinger -- in addition to parading himself around and congratulating himself on every occasion -- has a way of screwing people, using people, and abusing people. Yes he "needs venues" -- because he has pissed of every race promoter in Northern California and they don't want much to do with him. He also refuses to have a workable, sustainable model for his races.
In reality, the only real thing the NorCal League itself does is put on a race series for the teams, giving them a venue for competition. Well, Matt has decided to scrap the only employee he had who knew how to put on races, who knew how to deal with land managers, who knew anything about environmental science. Also -- he let this person go, and has yet to pay him what he is owed. The League, as a collective, has decided to dismiss morality in favor of Matt's ego. Matt has chosen to pay a super-cut rate to an series of "interns" -- none of whom know anything. But -- then again -- they also don't know enough to questions Matt's irrational decisions.
To the outsider, the coaches, the parents -- the focus is the kids. On the inside of the League, the focus is on Matt's ego -- and Austin's ego. It's sad -- and really hard to believe. But I assure you, it's true. I used to have the highest respect for "the League". Now the thought of it makes me sick. Except when I think about the kids. And the coaches. It's just too bad Matt and Austin have screwed up so badly that the race series is compromised.
All points of view have their merit
but I object to the tenor of Klarity's post. Klarity has some issues with how he believes things have come down. I am not sure where the information comes from nor why the disposition should be so publicly acrid and, dare I say it, callow. I challenge its purpose and thoughtfulness and object to the snide personal attacks. I've been involved for 7 seasons working intimately with teams and the League and the definition of its mission and execution. Bitterness is a very rare thing in NorCal and a disappointing thing to see in print. As I read Klarity's post I tried to put a face on the voice that comes off so miserably self-important.
The evolution of the League is hardly linear and without hazard. Just like a group ride, not everyone can hang or end up together back at the trailhead. The development of the League has required the management of a variety of talents and resources which have never been assembled before to create, support, and expand an idea like High School mountain bike racing. It has had to find a foothold in the margins of society, tolerance, and in tenuous circumstances while doubling in size every few years. It not only has had to create itself but create places to be and define itself as essential to High School athletics with people who have no wish to do so.
The League has outgrown many of its traditional venues from its sheer size and the fact is that it can't operate like the smaller grass roots groups do. The model of Race production must constantly flex to manage its ever-growing hoard of racers, support staff, family, and friends which can reach up to 1500 on any given day. Along the way it has had to invent comprehensive and cost-effective timing systems and manage huge paddocks and staging areas in temporary settings. There are so many people to consider and thousands of man-hours to direct. And then there is sponsorship.
Few people seem to realize that adult models for this concept don't work very well, nor do traditional racing models, high school sports models, or funding models so NorCal must invent it’s own heuristically. At every juncture resistances must be managed at schools, school districts, with land managers, cities, a media biased towards traditional sports, professional talents from within our sport who don't realize that they don't know how to develop and handle teens, and parents and a public who are very poorly educated about what our sport is and is not. To top it off then there is managing mountain bikers who talk about how mtb should be done, whether they understand it well enough to communicate it or not, and hope to god that they don't wreck the kids before they even get to the first race.
The success of this venture may in fact be like watching Law or Salami being made; one is best not to see it in too much detail. Leadership means making tough decisions. As a co-founder of El Cerrito Racing, it's Director for 6 years, and missing 1 race and 3 workouts in all that time, the buck stops right here. Every decision is not always popular. People come and go, can hang with the mission or not. We had lots of good guys on my staff. I was the good guy and the only bad guy. In the end of my tenure in summer 2008 we had one of the most successful teams in the 40 School League with an organization, a philosophy, and momentum which will carry it well into the future. It effects every ride they do every day.
People seem to believe that one ought to be able to manage a mission in some altruistic, objective fashion. Yet I believe that we are our biases and we do our level best. Goodwill, an appreciation of life, and a desire to support the kids, smoothes the way. So Austin and Matt have "screwed up so badly"? Let's see. From 80 League racers in 2001 to nearly 500 in 2009 plus another 80-100 in the SoCal league NorCal started this season. The NorCal League is the premier expert on High School Racing, arguably, in the world and the source authority for it's highly successful model for anyone who wants to set up a League. NorCal has developed racers from absolute noobs and taken them all the way to the World Championships and redefines Jr Racing for USAC at every turn. New major sponsors in Specialized and Easton. Olympians at our last Camp. Sounds like success to me.
How does this happen? Vision, leadership, lemons and lemonade, and tons of volunteers. Everyone is welcome for as long as they wish and can leave or adjust their needs and continue to lend a hand. Leadership, though, makes far more rigorous demands.
We are very lucky to have this.
Last edited by Berkeley Mike; 02-12-2009 at 06:39 PM.
I helped with starting the Albany High team. I have nothing but respect for Fitz, Austin, Berkeley Mike and the other hard working and thoughtful folks who give so much to our kids. Klarity, I don't know what your problem is but I don't think an anonymous post in a public forum is the place to air it.
Originally Posted by Klarity
I've finally completed my full qualifications as a Norcal head coach. It has taken me three years dealing with the League, attending their clinics, and coaching a team.
I have nothing but praise for Matt. Yeah, he is the front man, and he is going to get the roses and thorns. But I think has done a superb job running the league.
Even with the most recent personal crisis in the Norcal family, Matt shined and went above and beyond.
Is the NorCal MTB League running short of $$$?!?! I'll send a check right away!
Originally Posted by Klarity
FYI I met and rode with Matt once 3 years ago at the Henry Coe Fall Circus. He's a strong rider and seemed like a very cool guy.
Supporting the League? Sweet!
All forms of support are welcome. If you would care to make a financial, tax-deductible contribution they make it pretty easy. Just go here and fill out the form:
while you're there poke around and see what's been going on. Thanks for your thoughts.