By Kate Agathon of Campus Cycles
July 27, 2023–School may be out for summer, but the South High School Mountain Bike Team is busy hitting the single track practicing for the 2023 race season that begins in August, “High school mountain biking is unlike other sports. You don’t just drop your kids off at practice or sit on the sidelines and watch a game or two,” explained head coach Rob Ford.
“Race weekends are a treat! There is a whole community around it that involves parents as well as riders, and the atmosphere is best described as ‘festive’,” he continued.
According to Ford, being away in a mountain town changes the dynamic in a unique way. Everyone cheers everyone on, and there is ample downtime between races where the kids just get to hang out and enjoy themselves for a day without getting shuttled off to the next activity.
And, of course, there is the chance to race and see just how much improvement has been made after all those weeks and months of practice, he added.
Comprised of 18 students from four high schools (South, Thomas Jefferson, St. Mary’s and DSST), the 2023 South High School Mountain Bike Team also has its first female team member. “We are excited that our first female signed up this year and she’s riding extremely well. We’re also connecting her with other girls from around the area for rides to help build more momentum and critical mass while working on increasing female participation on the team,” said Ford.
The team has enjoyed some significant growth and has roughly quadrupled in size since his son, Chase (now a senior) joined the team. “The Colorado High School Cycling League sets up a really welcoming environment for riders of all skill levels. Right now, it is leaning into events and rides for the rapidly growing number of girls who make up the league’s membership,” he said.
Officially, the season starts in July and ends in November, with races running from late August to late October. Typical practices take place along the Front Range, with Alderfer/Three Sisters or Lair O’ the Bear among the team favorites.
“Being a city school, we mix it up a lot since almost anywhere we ride is going to involve some driving. Sometimes we work on skills nearby at Village Greens, or sometimes I’ll drag everyone up the dreaded fire road on Green Mountain,” said Ford. Before practice, the team will typically cover some topic, or identify a spot on the trail to work on specific skills, such as riding over ledges, cornering, etc. Ford continued, “Mostly we spend our time riding. Time in the saddle works wonders, especially once the regular season gets going.”
One of only two (the other is East) Denver Public Schools in the Colorado High School Cycling League, the South High School Mountain Bike Team is relatively new.
Established in 2019 by South High School students Peter Cull (Class of ‘22) and Parker Randles (Class of ‘22) who wanted to race in the Colorado High School Cycling League, the team’s founding head coach by association was Parker Randles’s father, Bart. Since then, the South High School Mountain Bike Team has continued the tradition of fathers coaching their sons on the team; an invaluable investment of time, support, and building of lifelong skills.
Like the Randles, Ford found himself getting involved in the team because his son, Chase, was riding on the team and the previous head coach was looking to move on after his son graduated. “Since I enjoy biking myself, I jumped in and got my coaching license to help our remaining coach at the time. It just didn’t seem fair that he got to have all the fun!” Ford exclaimed
Over the course of a couple of months, Ford took several days of education and wilderness first aid, worked twenty prior hours with kids, and obtained his Level 2 coaching license that allowed him to lead rides. He has been coaching for two years.
Currently, the team boasts seven coaches with two more in process, and four Level 2 rider leader coaches. “Sometimes we have almost as many coaches as kids showing up, which makes me wonder exactly who this team is for anyway!” Ford joked.
Ford’s genuine understanding of the benefits of mountain biking and providing a solid foundation for youth runs deep. More of a memory than a story, Ford’s favorite team ride story that he likes to share occurred during the pandemic. “Races were canceled of course, but keeping the program going was critical. For kids who were joining a new high school and taking classes at home, getting out and having some outdoor interaction was pretty clutch,” he said.
“Even if it was just timed laps in the grass next to the school, at least they were outside doing something with other kids from school. I think that that made a big difference to kids who were otherwise going stir crazy at home,” he continued. Ford loves leading rides and considered it the most rewarding part of coaching high school mountain biking. “Personally, I just enjoy being able to get out and ride with the kids. They are so much more fun to ride with than adults!” he finished.
The South High School Mountain Bike Team is open to anyone who would like to join. Those interested should contact Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org soon, as the regular season has just begun.
Photo credits: Rob Ford