In a meeting yesterday, the district chief financial officer pledged to present a solution to the board of trustees that would protect the district's three mountain bike teams from future attempts to dismantle them. If supported, the decision will be finalized at a meeting May 25th.Update 5/19:
The Tamalpais Unified High School District has reportedly rolled back the decision to eliminate mountain biking teams. After a strong public outcry against the decision to disassociate the three high schools from any club sports (meaning those sports are not sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation), the school district has instead requested that all students submit liability waivers, that all coaches go through background checks and safety training, and that teams file certain pieces of paperwork for field trips. All of those things already happen.
According to someone involved with one of the teams, the issue is still unsettled, and there will be a meeting today, another meeting tomorrow, and the regularly scheduled school board meeting next Tuesday. We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
Marin County is no stranger to controversy around mountain biking. As the birthplace of mountain biking where mountain biking on singletrack is now largely illegal, the mountain bikers of Marin are used to pushing back. Still, over the last two decades, high school mountain biking has exploded and is one of the most popular and inclusive sports in schools all around the region. And the formation of high school teams has been one of the best things to happen to mountain biking in Marin, creating an unequivocally positive community that helps shape the attitude around the sport.
This spring, club teams at the district’s three main schools – Redwood, Tamalpais, and Archie Williams High Schools – received a surprise email that as of July 1, the schools would no longer associate with any club sports teams, including the district’s three mountain bike teams. The message was unambiguous said MTB Hall of Famer and former high school coach Otis Guy: there was no room for negotiation and the decision had been made.
Things became stranger when more than two thousand people signed a petition
and hundreds of mountain bikers and others who value the teams contacted the school board to oppose the decision. The school district began sending out an email response that not only said that the change wasn’t happening, but that the decision hadn’t been made in the first place. The situation, the response said, was the result of a misunderstanding. The lack of consistent information, Guy said, is the worst part of the situation.
The decision to scrap the teams was reportedly because of advice from a third-party insurance advisor, but the school district has not given an explanation of exactly what the problems are with the club sports. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association does provide insurance to all members of its affiliate leagues.
School administrators and coaches met today to discuss what might happen. Rumor has it that the parties have come to an agreement that would preserve the teams, but if that's the case, the details are not yet public. Even if there’s an announcement that the teams will live on, some of the district’s riders are hesitant to believe any statement from the district after the contradictory emails, and the stakes are high for riders who believe these programs changed their lives.
I would know, because I started mountain biking as part of one of the three teams in question. After joining the NorCal League as a junior in high school, my direction completely changed, and almost everything positive in my life today can be directly or indirectly traced back to those high school races. So, for full disclosure, I am not a neutral observer.
And I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. The Marin high school teams have had plenty of time to make a difference for teenagers. While many NICA leagues are just starting to spring up around the United States, the NorCal League is the oldest and has been around for two decades. It started across the bay from Marin County in Berkeley, where a high school teacher started organizing some his students and taking them to adult races in 1998. Over the next few years, the surrounding schools joined the party and the group named itself the NorCal High School Cycling League in 2001. The Tamalpais District gave the league three more teams, and by the time I joined in, there were more than 60 students on my team and more than 600 riders at each race (including Kate Courtney and some other pretty quick riders). The NorCal League grew so big that it had to be split into North NorCal and South NorCal. (To make it extra confusing, the SoCal League was also split into North SoCal and South SoCal. The State Championship races were nightmares to talk about.)
But I digress. The state of things right now is that nobody seems to know what will happen. If the school district does decide to abandon the teams, the teams will continue to race in the NorCal League but will have to re-establish themselves as separate entities from the schools. Riders will have to find the teams on their own, rather than through school, and things will become more difficult for students who try to leave class early on Fridays to go to the weekend races. There will be no more use of the school gyms, and the already prohibitive sport will become more difficult to access for students who don’t already have a mountain biking connection.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available. Updates will also be posted at https://www.savemarinhsmtb.com/