NYVelocity Interview: New York High School Cycling League

NICA NY will also be hosting a film screening of a film about high school mountain biking. The date is tentative for early March. The film will be an excellent eye-opener to the world of HS MTB racing! Please visit their website, www.newyorkmtb.org, for more info.

NYVC So what is NICA all about? Is it affiliated with USA Cycling?
Austin McInerny (NICA Executive Director) NICA, (rhymes with ‘Bike-Ah’), is a youth development organization that governs high school mountain biking in the United States. NICA provides leadership, governance, financial and programmatic support to develop and promote high school mountain biking leagues throughout the United States.
NICA’s mission is to bring high school mountain biking coast to coast by 2020. The way we do that is by working closely with committed individuals and organizations to build chapters state by state. Jason Cairo submitted a strong bid in 2012 and we launched the New York effort in September 2012.
NICA is not affiliated with USA Cycling, though many of our members go on to race in USA Cycling’s collegiate program and other amateur racing teams. Additionally, many colleges are recruiting our student-athletes more and more and these riders race with USA Cycling while in college.

NYVC How did you get involved in NICA?
Jason Cairo (Founder New York High School Cycling League) A customer of mine at Endless Trail Bikeworx in Dobbs Ferry, Gregg Galleta, brought it to my attention last winter. I got in touch with NICA & found out what it would take to make New York the next state to have a high school mountain biking program. I assembled a Board of Directors, who put together a bid that outlined why NY was the perfect place for NICA’s next chapter. We submitted our bid in May 2012 and were accepted soon after. The New York High School Cycling League was launched in September and had the first coaching conference in December.

NYVC How does racing in a NICA race differ from racing juniors?
Austin McInerny NICA was founded as a way to promote mountain biking at the high school level and help student-athletes develop strong mind, body and character. All the coaching practices we teach are about creating an inclusive and supportive environment that a wide range of youth can thrive in. Before NICA, I think most opportunities to get involved in bike racing were more sink-or-swim programs where a few lucky kids had the support needed to really succeed. Having the clubs in schools provides access to so many more youth than ever before.

NYVC How many high school teams are there nationwide?
Austin McInerny Over 2000 student-athletes raced on just over 200 teams in 7 leagues last year. The races are high quality events with more spectators than you typically see at bike races. The events provide tons of fun with all the team spirit and families participating as volunteers, as well. The excitement is really contagious and we expect approximately 3000 student-athletes to participate across nine states this year.

NYVC Are the teams officially recognized by the school board?
Austin McInerny This differs from school to school, but 90% of our teams are recognized by their school as official school clubs. Some teams are getting treated more like the other school based teams and answer to their athletic director. Some schools do not want to add another sport to their budget constrained situation or do not fully understand that the NICA mountain bike program is not what they have seen on television. Some schools have an unrealistic fear of mountain biking which is skewed by the media coverage of the sport. NICA has excellent risk management in place and those concerns go away when administrators see how participation on school cycling teams positively influences the participants, both physically and mentally.

NYVC How does it all work regarding the structure of the teams, coaches, practicing/training, etc…
Austin McInerny That’s a big question and it all begins with training coaches to ensure that they put our best practices to use when working with their student-athletes. We have nearly 1000 licensed coaches who have learned the “NICA way” at our annual leaders’ summits. Most teams are founded by a volunteer head coach that recruits other coaches and ride leaders and gets the word out at their local high school. It is the perfect time for individuals interested in coaching to get involved. While the coaches training seminars are held in the fall, we do have a coach’s manual available as well as online instructional webinars. The first season here in Spring 2013 is a short one and folks who can recruit even a few high-schoolers are encouraged to give it a try this year.

NYVC Are there different racing categories (i.e. varsity, junior varsity)?
Austin McInerny Yes, just like other high school sports we have freshman, sophomore, JV and Varsity categories. We have a point system that incorporates all the categories and also requires both genders, as well. For both individuals and teams the point series goes on through the season and creates very exciting and tight competition. To see how this really plays out folks can take a look at results in any league, for example look at the exciting competition that took place in Minnesota their first season:http://www.minnesotamtb.org/events/results/

NYVC Who funds the league? Does it cost money for students to race?
Austin McInerny Each league depends on sponsors and individual donors to help cover the cost of getting started. The New York League is currently raising $20,000 to cover the cost of all their race production equipment and we are half way there. Each league eventually obtains sustainability through a mix of sponsors, donors and race fees. Our race fees are very reasonable given the quality of the program and scholarships are available for all student-athletes with financial challenges. Joining the league cost $25 and each race is $40.

NYVC What about bikes and gear, how are they paid for?
Jason Cairo Bikes and gear are usually provided at the team level. While some students have mountain bikes or the means to acquire one, many teams also have success getting second hand bikes donated from the local community for students without the means to find a bike. As teams mature, they are able to manage more ‘loaner’ bikes. Many teams work closely with local shops and programs exist for participating shops to help bring down the cost of getting equipment.

NYVC How do students get involved?
Jason Cairo Any student who wants to get involved is encouraged to contact us. We do our best to help students connect with existing efforts in their region. Students can also get involved with the team building process. But students can also sign-up for the races independently in the case that a club does not form at their school. All interested students, parents and coaches are encouraged to visit www.newyorkmtb.org and send any questions to myself at Jason@newyorkmtb.org. The opening race is April 28th!

NYVC What about coaches or other roles that support the students and the league, are they all volunteers?
Jason Cairo Yes, like myself, our coaches are generally volunteers. We are also in need of volunteers at the league level to put on a top quality race. Those interested in getting involved please contact us soon, we have a range of opportunities, and we expect to see this become a thriving community as it has in six other states. It’s really a lot of fun and gets us all out on bikes in some amazing locations.

NYVC So when’s the first official race scheduled for in NY?
Jason Cairo The New York NICA race dates are April 28th at Sprains Ridge Park in Yonkers & June 2nd at Williams Lake in Rosendale. Our first season is intentionally short, a great chance for students, coaches and parents to try it out. In 2014 we are planning a four-race series.

NYVC How many students to you expect at the first race?
Jason Cairo That’s hard to say right, but we are planning for over 100 students!

NYVC How many high school teams have been established in the NY league so far?
Jason Cairo We have ten teams signed up with a few that I know of that are already holding meetings and practices. More teams are expected to sign up as the word spreads. We appreciate everyone spreading the word, posting on FB and otherwise informing their local community.

NYVC Do you have major sponsors in place for the league?
Jason Cairo NICA is our top sponsor at this point, providing tons of support made possible by their long list of sponsor including Specialized, Easton Foundations, Trek, Sho-Air, and SRAM.
The New York chapter has been supported this far by the board of directors, friends & family raising over $7,000.00, We have local sponsors lined up to help us reach our goal of $50,000.00 to support this first race season and continued league building into 2014. Our fundraising goals are modest when you look at the kind of program we are building here and the number of families that will be impacted in the years to come, the door is wide open for sponsors who want to get involved.

NYVC What type of goals and expectations do you have for the league over the next few years?
Jason Cairo One of our goals is to have mountain biking recognized like any other sport, a part of the school culture. And why not? It’s such a cool sport with a mix of individual and team dynamics, and an amazingly positive experience where student-athletes can build strong bodies, strong minds and strong character.

<<This interview originally appeared on the NYVelocity.com website.>>

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