California’s Tamalpais School District on Monday backtracked from an earlier decision to withdraw its affiliation from its three high school mountain bike teams. The decision came during a morning Zoom meeting between a handful of coaches and league representatives with district officials, which was scheduled following swift backlash when the district’s move to seemingly distance itself from the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) leagues became public late last week.
“They backpedalled completely,” said Julia Violich, director of the Redwood High School Racing Team. “That’s the power of community. They are working with us now to actually bring us closer, which, that was always our main intention.”
According to Violich, last week, coaches from the Tamalpais High MTB Race Team, Redwood Racing Team and Archie Williams (previously Drake) Mountain Bike Team received letters from their respective schools’ vice principals stating that as of July 1, they would no longer be considered club sports due to a third-party risk assessment that deemed the risk of club sports like mountain biking, sailing and, surfing too high. That meant teams could no longer use the schools’ names, mascot or symbols on team jerseys, teams couldn’t recruit on campuses or use school facilities for practice or meetings, and kids could no longer get excused early on Fridays to make it to weekend races.
It was a devastating blow to the region, whose teams were among the first in the NICA program two decades ago, with coaches fearing a drastic drop-off in participation and a negative effect to kids who thrive in the inclusive, ‘no-cut’ environment of a mountain bike league as opposed to the higher kid-to-coach ratio of traditional ball sports. There are about 200 NICA racers between the three schools.
“It was a complete shock,” said Otis Guy, former high school league coach and Mountain Bike Hall of Famer. “It’s like they told you they fired you, they took your house away, took your bikes away and you can’t see your friends.”
Guy was among local influencers who quickly fired up a campaign to respond to the district. A website, savemarinhsmtb.com had gone live by Friday, with district board members names and email addresses published, the local trail group, Marin County Bicycle Coalition sent out a petition that racked up 1,000 signatures and word started spreading on social media. Kate Courtney, World Cup XC star racer and arguably NICA’s most famous alumnus, took time away from her World Cup race weekend in Nové Město, Czech Republic, to share a link to the Save Marin website on her Instagram account.
Courtney got her start racing on a high school league in Marin County.
On Sunday, the district, whose board had been inundated with letters, issued a response saying the board did not disband mountain biking, but rather the district was in discussions with lead coaches and advisors on how to bring the teams in line with “current board policy and administrative regulation,” since mountain biking is not a California Interscholastic Federation-sanctioned sport.
California leagues are typically club teams, which means they don’t fall under the CIF, like traditional ball sports like football, soccer, basketball and baseball do. When NICA’s precursor, the NorCal High School Mountain Bike League, was first established, they opted not to go the CIF route because it is more restrictive, Guy said. Among other factors, CIF sports must supply all equipment and aren’t allowed to compete on Sundays, a difficult scenario for mountain bike racing.
Letters submitted to the board were met with this response from board president Leslie Lundgren Harlander: “The Board of Trustees has taken no action to eliminate mountain biking at any of our District campuses. The District administration continues to explore options regarding the structure of these teams with respect to the fact that mountain biking is not a CIF sanctioned sport. It was never the intention of the District or Board to disband mountain biking.
I am sorry for the confusion and I am optimistic a workable solution can be found. The District recognizes the value and importance of student participation in sports, and I understand the District staff will be providing further information soon.”
At Monday’s meeting, Violich and other representatives requested the mountain bike teams keep their club status, which includes the ability for faculty members to serve as advisors and coaches, teams to apply for school foundation grants, inclusion in yearbook and TV/newspaper coverage, excused absences to race on Fridays and the use of school facilities for league activities. In exchange, the district asked for all student athletes to complete an athletics waiver, all coaches to go through background checks and take a one-hour safety training course (NICA coaches already far surpass that requirement, Violich said) and that leagues submit certain field trip and driver liability forms.
The district board has a regular May 25 public meeting scheduled, where this topic was likely to dominate public comment, but Violich said the community no longer needs to attend based on the outcome of today’s meeting.