Mountain biking is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, competing with rugby, track and field, and clay shooting. A local club sport is part of that trend, inviting both boys and girls in grades 6-12 from the Marshfield School District to hone their off-road skills and compete in races around the state.
The Marshfield Mountain Bike Club first formed in July 2015 with just 6 riders, growing to 22 participants this year. Twice a week from July to mid-October, the group practices for two hours at Marshfield School Forest under the direction of dedicated volunteer coaches. Bikers can choose to race up to 5 races at tracks around the state, or just bike for fun.
“I would recommend the Mountain Bike Club to any family,” said Tara Maki, who volunteers with husband, Jim. “It’s great exercise, builds self confidence with new skill development, and allows kids to challenge themselves as much or as little as they want based on their own goals.”
Her son Adam, who started with the club, races in the boys varsity as a senior, and daughter Lauren races the freshman division in her third year. Both enjoy building friendships with fellow bikers around the state through the Wisconsin High School Cycling League.
“They look forward to racing, but also to seeing friends from their own team as well as other teams throughout the state,” said Tara. “The kids like that, while there is a competitive side to racing, it is a lighthearted atmosphere where racers encourage one another.”
At a recent race at Nine Mile in Marathon County, Lauren finished fourth in her section and Adam finished 9th. It was a fast course altogether with a few technical sections when hours spent on the practice course comes in handy.
Races are a weekend event and teams are allowed to take a spin on the course Saturday afternoon and camp overnight with their families. After a Sunday morning start, the race can continue well into the afternoon.
Middle school students will ride one 5-6 mile lap and older students will complete four laps. For those who feel like a challenge or are still working on their skills, this is flexible. “We’ve had students petition up to race against older riders, and we’ve had students petition down to ride a shorter race more appropriate to their skill level,” said Head Coach Rachel Krentz.
It’s not always about the competition, but the thrill of accomplishment and being part of a team. This is certainly true for Alex Montalvo, a junior in high school in his second year with the club. Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, he takes each race with stride. “He starts and ends with a smile,” said Angela Montalvo, mom. “I love the club for him because everyone is so supportive.They are there to cheer each other on.”
One of his favorite courses is located in Wausau since it’s relatively flat, which he prefers. This year, he achieved his goal of finishing all five races.
“This club is perfect because it gives him the opportunity to be part of something, and I can’t say enough about how supportive the coaches and teammates are!” Angela said.
“The group that started the program is very supportive and encouraging. Alex is very lucky to belong to a group that treats him like family,” said Randy Montalvo, dad. “From his fellow riders to coaches and volunteers, we have seen a very positive experience for him. His smile and excitement during the season is heartwarming to see as a parent.”
Alex’s most memorable rides have been the beautiful Eau Claire track and the Trek Track. Joan Riedel, grandmother to Alex, often helps him get to races and practices. “They cheer him on through the tough parts of the course and clang bells, blowing trumpets and trombones as he crosses the finish line,” she said.
Although there’s a competitive side to the sport, bikers create a fun, supportive community which encourages each other to do his or her best, regardless of skill level.
“I would recommend joining this club to anyone who is looking to meeting new people and trying something a little different,” said Randy. “Alex enjoys making new friends and meeting up with them to go on rides for practice and to hang out with them on the weekend at the events. He really enjoys the camaraderie that is provided by his teammates and his coaches.”
While the season is over, Alex looks forward to biking during the summer to get ready for next season and hopes more people join the club.
The club wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated coaches leading the team. Middle School science teacher Rachel Krentz volunteers as head coach alongside Middle School special education teacher Brent Benson. Tony Krentz, Jennifer King, and Tina Cleveland are also coaches. While they don’t have kids on the team, each loves to mountain bike and watch the kids have fun.
“All of the time from the coaches is volunteered. They do not receive any funding from the school district and have to pay all of their own expenses at the meets, which most races require an overnight stay,” said Joan. “They are such a dedicated group of coaches and have a true love for the sport of mountain biking, as well as a sincere love for the students.”
The National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) has three levels of coach licensing. Level 3 is the highest, requiring Wilderness First Aid training, over 100 hours of field work, two on-the-bike training classes, and participation in the state-wide NICA Leaders’ Summit. Rachel, Tony, and Brett have achieved this status.
Level 1 coaches must complete a yearly concussion training, background check, and pass a risk management exam. The Mountain Bike Club has thirteen Level 1 coaches: Jennifer, Tina, and 11 parents.
“One thing that is unique about the sport is that we encourage parents to become certified coaches,” said Rachel.
Becoming a coach is a great way for parents to spend quality time with the family. Once their kids get involved, they often become enthusiastic about mountain biking as well. “Our coaches do a great job building skills in the athletes while still encouraging them to have fun,” said Tara. “The kids (and parents) have great memories camping at races, play frisbee, attending summer biking camp, and competing in scavenger-hunt, Amazing Race-style Alleycat races.”
Rachel started mountain biking about five years ago after getting talked into riding during the winter on a fat bike after her husband told her how fun it was. After using a fat bike for a year, she purchased a mountain bike and now enjoys spending free weekends riding. Levis Mound near Neillsville is a favorite course but there are also other trail systems nearby, like Nine Mile. Additionally, they have traveled with a family from the club to Colorado and Utah to bike.
Mountain Bike Club members practice at the school forest trail, which it helps maintain with other volunteers. “Our practices usually consist of an hour or so of riding a combination of the cross country ski trails and newly built single track mountain bike trails,” said Rachel. “We then usually focus on one skill, either at the end or beginning or practice. Skills can include cornering, techniques for climbing or descending hills, and how to attack or avoid obstacles.”
Self-improvement is the main goal of practice, over attempting to finish first. “It isn’t about being the fastest or the best, just trying to be better than you were yesterday,” she said.
While the club is currently only for students at the School District of Marshfield, there are other teams around the state that operate separately from a school system. Wausau, Stevens Point, and Eau Claire are the closest composite teams. “One of the major advantages of being associated with the school system is that we have been given the opportunity to develop, create, and use the trails at the Marshfield School Forest,” said Rachel.
There is a possibility for a second mountain bike team if a coach can be found. Many parents who would like to have their children participate but aren’t part of the school district have contacted The Sports Den, which is a major supporter of the club.
“We would LOVE to get a second team started in the Marshfield area that would be considered a composite team,” said Breanna VanDeHey, sales manager at The Sports Den. “This could consist of youth from Columbus, home-schoolers, Spencer, Stratford and Auburndale, for example.”
In the meantime, ways to help the club include attending area races and local fundraising events throughout the year, or even donating a nice mountain bike.
“The Marshfield Mountain Bike Club is eventually hoping to have a fleet of loaner bikes that athletes could use if they do not have a bike of their own,” said VanDeHey. “This would open the doors to many more interested youth that currently do not have a bike of their own.”
The Sports Den helps out the club by teaching an annual bike mechanics course so riders can fix a flat or put their chain back on. During a race, outside help comes with significant time penalties, so it’s important to learn these skills.
Besides helping with fundraising events, the store has given away a Specialized mountain bike as part of a raffle and sells $1 and $5 donation cards for customers to purchase toward the club. “The funds from these donations stay right at our store for the club to use as needed for parts, lubricants, cleaners, nutritional supplies, pumps and other gear for the team.” VanDeHey said. “We have a whole wall of these cards right now in the store.”
-by Kaylin Speth