What's the new hip sport among Colorado teenagers? Lacrosse? Sure, it's still growing, but lacrosse hasn't qualified as the hippest Colorado high school sport since the late 90s. Football? Always popular, but not any more now that is has been for decades.
Instead, the true "it" sport among Colorado high schoolers may be mountain biking, with teams from 19 different schools scheduled to line up at a race on Saturday. The Bear Creek Park course in Lakewood, Colo. will serve as the third and final race before a state championship race scheduled for Oct. 31 near Elbert, Colo. According to a story by the Denver Post's Scott Willoughby, this year's four-race competitive high school program may just be the tip of the iceberg for mountain biking in the state.
"It's a no-brainer for Colorado," Kate Rau, the organizer of the Colorado High School Cycling League told the Post. "It's going off. We've had more than 180 kids register and 144 competitors at both of our first two races. I can pretty confidently say our high school races in Colorado are historic in that it's the first that many kids between ages 14 and 18 have raced at one time."
Rau claims the program she's organized is based on a successful program that began in California a decade ago -- the NorCal High School Mountain Biking League -- and by creating a viable competitive high school league in a different state, the CHSCL could set the process toward creating a national championship in motion. Now groups in Texas, Washington and Minnesota are all reportedly starting competitive high school mountain biking circuits next fall, adding depth and geographic diversity to a rapidly expanding school sports phenomenon.
It only takes one interaction with a competitor in Rau's league to feel just how obsessed Colorado teen cyclists have become.
"I want to take this all the way, eventually upgrade on bikes and keep going," Douglas County (Colo.) High's Angel Huerta told the Post. "I'm studying to be an engineer. I want to find somebody who knows how to weld and start making my own frames. ...
"After I graduate, I'm still going to make sure this thing keeps going. I'm going to help out whenever I can."
That future-forward ethos is driving the league's planning, as well. Rau said that course planners, coaches and competitors have helped manicure future courses together with rakes, shovels and other trail building techniques. The energy of the athletes and general atmosphere of the league has also inspired some in the state's cycling community to get involved.
"I've been mountain biking since 1984 and this was just too good of an opportunity to get the kids back involved," Douglas County High coach Mark Neel, who also runs Castle Rock Bicycle Company, told the Post. "It seems like we see kids do less and less physical sports."
Getting Colorado high school students to be more active was the original goal of the CHSCL, but if it continues to gain new competitors at the pace of its first season, Rau is optimistic it can accomplish even more, perhaps gaining recognition from the Colorado High School Activities Association in the process.
"I don't mean to say mountain biking is the save all, be all for kids. It just happens to be the one I'm involved in," Rau told the Post. "But I've seen it do a lot great things for kids. It's better living through biking."