Mountain biking can be a daunting sport for any young person, but if the high price of a quality bike precludes them from participating it can be an impossible dream.
Randy Wood is among the avid riders that want to be sure the exhilarating sport is available to anyone. Along with other coaches, he formed the San Jacinto High School Mountain Bike Team.
“The team has overcome many barriers to be a sixth-year team,” said Wood, who teaches special education at the school.
Despite its name, the team includes riders from San Jacinto Unified School District middle schools and, according to the district’s latest published statistics, more than 80% of students attending Monte Vista and North Mountain middle schools and San Jacinto High qualify for a free or discounted lunches.
Team Director Wood said those disadvantages carry over into mountain biking and, of the 28 students on this year’s team, more than 20 ride loaner bikes.
“The community has been very generous to donate in order to build our program,” Wood said. “We’ve taken kids all over Southern California to ride bikes when some haven’t even been out of San Jacinto.”
Donations and fundraisers let the team offer scholarships for those that can’t afford the more than $200 it costs for a rider who already has a bike and equipment.
“All they need to do is bring a good attitude and be ready to work,” Wood said. “We have a fleet of loaner bikes that have been purchased by the school and the team over the years.”
Wood said that, as far as he knows, this is the only team that pays registration fees for students to race and finds ways to make riding bikes a reality for all that show interest.
“We have a ‘no cut’ policy and every coach we have on the team is also a teacher within SJUSD, so we excel in recruiting,” he said.
Head coach John Norman has been a special education teacher at the high school for 16 years, Assistant Coach Brandon Mitchell, who also teaches special education students, has been at Monte Vista Middle School for 15 years and Assistant Coach Niki Gray has been at the high school for more than 15 years and teaches Advancement Via Individual Determination and PE.
“I’ve coached 12 different sports and this is what sports is supposed to be: all inclusive,” Gray said. “It’s competitive but still has all the things found in traditional sports like camaraderie and a bond between riders and coaches.”
Wood has been riding mountain bikes about 20 years and is passionate about the sport and the values it teaches.
“The sport builds self-esteem, strong minds, bodies and character,” he said. “It’s fun and challenging at the same time.”
Wood said endurance is important, but mental toughness is tested daily in mountain biking because races last about one hour and put riders under much physical and mental distress throughout that time.
“I’ve coached many other sports within the past 10 years and mountain biking is the most fulfilling,” he said. “Many riders in the San Jacinto area don’t have backgrounds that include cycling. We take kids that can barely get on a bike and make them into very competitive riders. Once we get kids fully registered and get them on the bike, it doesn’t take long to have a lifelong cyclist on our hands.”
The team’s first race of the season will be the Beach to Boulders event at Lake Perris on Saturday, March 7, and Sunday, March 8.