By: Erin Holly McDermott, Editorial Staff ‘23
It fails to be widely recognized that New Jersey has middle and high-school-level competitive biking series. New Jersey Interscholastic Cycling League (NJICL) hosts cross-country mountain biking races five times a year as one of 29 leagues apart of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). The national league started with Matt Fritzinger, a coach at Berkely High in California, who began the NorCal league. States such as Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, No. California, Utah, and others have huge leagues and programs for student-athletes. NJICL values fun, inclusivity, equity, respect, and community through all of its activities, events, and races.
NJICL is divided into categories based on skill level, gender, age, grade, and comfortability on a bike. The top experienced and fastest riders will fall into the Varsity level (both boys and girls have a division in all categories). The following best falls into JV4, which provides 4 laps every race. The list continues onto JV3, 3 laps every race, where the threshold for high schoolers begins and anyone from sophomore to senior year can lie. Freshman, Grade 8, Grade 7, and Grade 6 have their respective categories, where they race either 2 or 3 laps. For most races, lap distance hovers around 3 miles a lap, some venues like Chester have less, and others may have more. This year, 5 locations around New Jersey were selected: Camden County College, Camp Edge, Chester, Lewis Morris, and Six Mile Run. Middle school and high school students are offered the opportunity to race and, hopefully, place on the podium each race.
NJICL offers two programs, per NICA programs, in addition to their races and other events. The first, implemented in 2016, is called Girls Riding Together (GRiT). GRiT aims to protect and encourage the participation of female student-athletes in competitive biking. It comes as no surprise that this sport is male-dominated. However, with changes in regulations, all NICA teams must include female riders to have a chance at state championship standings. Some teams include Highlands Composite Racing Team (based out of Ringwood), Don Bosco (based out of the prep school), Camden County MTB Crew (based out of Glouster), etc. Don Bosco faced criticism in the past years due to their lack of female attendance. The team is curated from the school, an all-boys preparatory school. However, since then, the team has partnered with Bosco’s sister schools, such as IHA and AHA, to meet the requirements set by NICA. Bosco currently sits at number 11 in the team standings for the series. Meanwhile, the Salem County Reactors are 1st. The second program is a “Try it Out” program that encourages riders with any level of experience to start biking. Many teams have also implemented a similar program that can provide new riders with experienced coaches, a bike, and a time to test out a team to see if it’s the right fit for the rider.
Ramapo-Indian Hills has a team that races at the NJ NICA series. It’s small but growing. In the team rankings, Ramapo-Indian Hills is 20th of 26th. For the first year of execution and racing, this ranking is extremely promising. 5 student-athletes race for our newest sports team, and the number of participants will grow.
Some of our Hills students also race for a non-school-based team, Highlands Composite Racing Team (HCRT). Highlands’ offers a fun, fresh, exploratory environment for all who aim to participate. HCRT is one of the largest teams on the roster, however, does not charge dues from students like many other teams. Practice rides are just that: no training sessions, no spin classes. Highlands is a home, a family even, that encourages failure and promotes being the “nicest kids on the trail, nicest kids on the podium”. HCRT is p8 on the leaderboard for the series, with one more race to go. The team has 4 high school captains and 2 middle school captains to help encourage, instruct, and assist the wonderful coaching staff. The coaches truly value each rider, whether it be a competitive racer or a practicing rider. Should anyone be interested in trying out the team or program, you can reach NICA directly or any team independently.
Riding bikes may seem insignificant. However, it provides a welcoming, athletic community for young riders. Students learn to rely on others for emotional and physical support, even though it is a primarily independent sport promoting self-confidence and self-reliance. Anyone, at any age or physical ability, can learn to ride (and race) bikes. The first step is always the hardest. Teams recognize the importance and courage needed to make the jump into competitive racing. Team managers, coaches, and student captains thank NICA and their team for making racing an accessible option for the niche group of riders.