NICA Honors its 2017 Award Recipients

For the eighth consecutive year, NICA is thrilled to recognize outstanding participants, coaches, volunteers from interscholastic cycling leagues across the United States. While an awards banquet was not held this year, each recipient is being presented a custom plaque acknowledging their achievements.

NICA presented awards in eleven categories to twenty individuals and organizations considered to be the most outstanding student-athletes, dedicated coaches, and the most supportive volunteers and sponsors to have helped advance the interscholastic mountain biking movement over the past year.

NICA’s President Austin McInerny observed, “With over 300 nominations submitted this year, the selection process was extremely challenging. This year’s award recipients are exemplary in so many ways and NICA is thankful for their involvement and contributions. While each recipient is unique in their various accomplishments and roles within the NICA community, they all share a strong belief in our core values of inclusivity, fairness, equality and a desire to strengthen body, mind and character thru cycling. Congratulations to this year’s NICA Award recipients!”

 

Clif Bar Volunteer Service Award

The Clif Bar & Company Volunteer Service Award honors an exceptional volunteer with 3+ years of commitment whose dedication of time, expertise and enthusiasm goes above and beyond to make a difference in the organization.

Photo: Jessica Sanchez

Mario Sanchez, Temescal Canyon Titan Cycling, SoCal League

Mario Sanchez is a reliable and enthusiastic volunteer with SoCal’s Temescal Canyons Titan Cycling Team. For the past 5 years Mario has volunteered  to help the team with training and pitting during races and supports the SoCal League as the Varsity Girls’ sweeper during races. Mario always puts the student-athletes first – he’s on spot to help with water, snacks, bike parts, or motivational words. Mario will be the first to volunteer for whatever is needed for either his team or the league. He is dedicated and devotes his free time after a long days work to push himself and the student-athletes around him to be better bike riders. Mario is a great role model and has made a positive impact on his team and everyone around him!

“My time volunteering with the NICA So Cal League and for Titan Cycling has been an amazing experience. The biggest reward and most impactful has been the opportunity to encourage, support and watch these kids grow and develop a passion for cycling and a healthy lifestyle that appreciates the outdoors. Being a part of these organizations have re-ignited my passion for cycling and a chance to become a positive role model for the student athletes.” “Getting involved has provided me the opportunity to work with the coaches, ride along with the athletes, and meet other parent volunteers. Becoming a volunteer is highly encouraged within our team and has brought our team together to become a Cycle Family. Parents come together and do a fantastic job of pitching in and making each event successful.” “Our SoCal League is unique from traditional sports in that “Excellence in Sportsmanship” is truly taken to heart, where a positive attitude and respect for one another is encouraged and taught. The focus of cycle culture is to always cheer for and support each and every rider that crosses the finish line, regardless of the team they represent or their placement. Unlike other sports, coaches are in the trenches with the team members, literally. We train and ride hard along with the kids at practices and pre-rides to prepare for race day. We really understand the effort, hard work, and dedication these kids put in to finish the challenging races during a race season. I believe this creates a healthy respect each student athlete gains towards the coaching staff. The kids see our example and realize we have to practice what we teach and preach.” – Mario Sanchez

CamelBak Distinguished Alumni Award

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes student-athletes who carries on the spirit of interscholastic cycling beyond their high school years.

Photo: Randy Web

Brent Carter, Alabama League

Brent Carter is a great candidate for the Camelbak distinguished alumni award. Brent comes from a biking family. He and his family moved from Colorado to Huntsville 5 years ago. He was one of our athletes for the first 2 years of the league and graduated in 2016. He is going to college locally and also works at our state park Monte Sano. He spends all of his free time working with our NICA teams training or as a volunteer during each race. He took time off work at the beginning of the year so he could be involved throughout the NICA season. Brent is kind to everyone and wants to help in whatever way possible. Since I have known him the past 3 years, I have not seen him without a smile on his face. He never complains at all. All of the athletes look up to him because not only is he is a well mannered young man, but also an incredible athlete. He is never boastful or proud. He is a great kid who enjoys life in general. With all of this said, I feel this is one young man who realizes the importance of paying it forward and deserves recognition.

“My participation in the Alabama NICA League inspired me to continue to work on my leadership skills and helping others gain more knowledge in cycling. Seeing the impact of all the teams, parents, coaches, student-athletes, and other volunteers come together has made the NICA Alabama League feel like one big family. It is certainly amazing to see all the teams interact with each other, meeting new people, and grow and keep their friendships.” – Brent Carter

Shimano Race Production Partner Award

The Race Production Partner Award acknowledges an individual whose outstanding partnership role in race productions is key to the success of a leagues race event production.

Photo: Todd Bauer

Jeremiah Van Bockern, Minnesota League

Jeremiah Van Bockern is the course setter for the Minnesota League whose contribution is a major factor in the success of the league races. His prior familiarity with the venue and existing trails is key to determining the best and safest lap for each race. Jeremiah’s long tenure with the league, and his can-do attitude makes him the go-to person for the race crew. He and the dedicated volunteers that assist him are successful in creating a great course, solving weather-related trail issues, keeping on top of trail conditions during the races, and then removing all traces at the end of the event. Jeremiah has also taken on added responsibilities when necessary including taking on venue infrastructure planning and ensuring the race weekend “city” supports every rider, coach, spectator, volunteer and race crew.

“I love playing bicycle! Seeing all of the smiling faces of the student athletes, coaches and spectators at the races must mean we are doing something right. I love that this program really concentrates on the experience, not just the competition. Regardless of their ability level, all riders can be a part of a team.” – Jeremiah Van Bockern

Quality Bicycle Products Community Impact Award

The Community Impact Award honors an individual whose dedication to high school mountain biking has resulted in positive impacts on youth, the community and the organization.

Photo: Mike Nettleton

Vernon HuffmanSan Domenico School, NorCal League

Vernon’s passion for youth development thru cycling, commitment to community building, and explosive zest for live is the embodiment of the QBP Community Impact Award. As a coach for the San Domenico High School MTB Team, which was founded by his inspiring wife Robin, he has mentored many student-athletes who have excelled both on and off the bike. Additionally, as the Executive Director of the Access4Bikes Foundation, he has provided strong leadership in representing responsible mountain bikers on the front lines of the battle for equitable and sustainable trail access in what is arguably one of the most contentious regions in the country and, in doing so, has inspired (and hired) a number of his students to become advocates themselves by becoming NICA Teen Trail Corps Captains who are destined to strengthen mountain biker’s representation both on the trail and in public discussions concerning land access. Vernon’s impact in his community has been and continues to be profound and we are forever thankful for his efforts!

“I have been an advocate for mountain bike access for 25 years. Most of this time I was working for myself so that I could ride more trails as there were more closed trails than open. Then in 2012 I attended my first NorCal High School League bike race at Stafford Lake in Novato, California and experienced an awakening. I saw all these high school kids on bikes, I saw their parents on bikes, and I saw their siblings on bikes. I realized that I was witnessing a revolution and mountain biking had reached our youth in a very big way. I saw the joy and excitement they were experiencing while negotiating the race course and the hard effort they were putting in.

It was like a lite bulb went off and I realized that I was no longer an advocate for myself anymore but I was now doing this for these kids.The next year my wife started San Domenico’s first team, an all girls team at the time as the high school had yet to bring in boys. I became her assistant coach and got my NICA licensing. I am now fueled constantly by these inspiring young athletes. It has been rewarding helping them find their voice and plugging them into the process of advocating for trail access by appointing them as interns for Access4Bikes Foundation, the organization I serve as President. It is a game changer taking them to county board meetings and having them speak up for their desires for trails to ride. Our board of directors seem equally impressed and I believe their minds have been opened by the needs of our young mountain biking enthusiasts.”        – Vernon Huffman

Photo: Kenneth Jay Friedman

Mick and Sabrina Hellman, NorCal League

Mick and Sabrina Hellman have been supporters of the NorCal High School Cycling League for many years; however, five years ago they took their support to the next level. The Hellman family built a NorCal/NICA approved high school mountain bike course on their private property and then invited us to race there, in perpetuity. In a region with limited access to race venues, and high costs for those that are available, the Hellman‘s donation of their land for our student-athlete’s benefit, is simply enormous.

“When we established 5 Springs Farm in 2012, we were eager to create a trail that would work for NorCal High School Cycling Races. As a family that embraces mountain biking, we see it as a fun, inclusive, healthy activity that high schoolers can enjoy for a lifetime. It also combines the best elements of individual and team sports in that every athlete is “on the field” for the whole event. The rise of high school mountain bike racing is a beautiful thing! Go NICA!” – Mick and Sabrina Hellman

Photo: Otis Guy

Otis Guy, NorCal League

As the co-head coach for the Drake High School MTB Team, Otis Guy has set the standard for excellence for all of our coaches, and the League. With his dedication to inclusivity, good sportsmanship, and team-work, Otis has not only built an incredibly team [with 7 D1 team State Champion titles], but a community amongst his athletes, coaches, school and parents. In addition to his stellar coaching, Otis is also the NorCal League’s premier WFA instructor, teaching half a dozen WFA courses each year to our coaches. Lastly, Otis has been an important mentor and collaborator for the NorCal League Executive Director, Vanessa Hauswald, which has helped the League in innumerable ways.

“Everything about the Norcal program impacted me. I was a Norcal board member before I started coaching at Drake. This was something that Joe Breeze, Marc Vendetti and I could only dream about when we started riding mountain bikes in October 1973 and helped launch the sport. For us it was about getting more people on bikes and giving everyone the opportunity of freedom that cycling can give everyone. NICA and Norcal are all about getting more kids on bikes and they have fulfilled this better than anybody or any organization. Drake MTB (before I started) began the “Spirit of Howdy” which NICA adopted for the nation. At Drake we foster a culture that all riders, parents and coaches are all in this together and support each other at all times and no matter what may happen to always be positive, cheer on everyone and look at the races as an opportunity to excel and each individual has the freedom to assess that.

Our riders, parents and coaches know we don’t succeed by measurements of results but how we all raise ourselves up to do the best we can. The team set a goal to have 50% of the team be girls by 2025 and the team already has 34% girls. Each year the team gains more volunteers and parents who bring skills and energy that seems to keep increasing each year. We as coaches really lean on our student/athlete Captains, parent committee, all the parents and assistant coaches who make this team happen far more than Rob Reed ( co head coach) and I can do. Nearly everyday, I see someone in the community who compliments me on what a friendly group of riders they encounter while enjoying our incredible outdoors. There is nothing like this program in any other high school sport.

Imagine all the high school football teams in Norcal getting together for the weekend, all getting to play at the same time, having parents making breakfast burrito’s, lunch, have a feed zone to fuel the players during the game and being able to get to know each other. Oh, I think that football teams are 99% boys, well everyone is welcome in NICA. Now, I can still play in pickup basketball games now but high school mountain biking is something that will last a lifetime. Cycling in all forms is the most efficient form of transportation and fun at the same time. That is what NICA is introducing to all these student/athletes and by the way, I cannot count how many parents and volunteers discovered the stoke of cycling by being part of a high school MTB team.” – Otis Guy

NICA Legacy Award

The NICA Legacy Award honors an individual or company for their tremendous philanthropic support of NICA and NICA leagues. Recipients of this award understand the importance of — and invest significant energies and resources to — empowering youth through sport.

Photo: Margot Northover

Kit Crawford

Kit Crawford is the personification of this award and along with her husband, Gary Erickson, they have played a massive role in fueling NICA’s growth by both providing significant financial support thru CLIF Bar & Company and the CLIF Family Foundation as well as providing tasty CLIF fuel and hydration to coaches and student-athletes across NICA Leagues. Kit has also been an extremely strong supporter of efforts to empower women both on and off the bike and with the founding a women’s professional mountain bike team in 2002, she provided an opportunity for women to ride together and support one another to succeed at the highest level of international competition. Today, two NICA graduates are members of the CLIF Pro Team and we thank Kit for her vision, fortitude, and commitment to expanding opportunities for youth across America to pursue innovative ideas towards building stronger communities. 

“When I was a young athlete in the 70’s, my high school often struggled to find coaches with experience and passion for the ‘girls teams.’ Today, I’m really proud to be part of a shift in the way we support all young athletes. NICA embodies this inclusiveness – it’s changing the way the mountain biking community embraces female riders. NICA’s leadership is helping redefine how people view women across all sports. Bravi tutti!” – Kit Crawford

NICA League Founders Award

The NICA League Founders Award recognizes an individual’s commitment, enthusiasm and perseverance in launching a new NICA league.

Photo: Dylan Gradhandt

Dylan Gradhandt, Idaho League

Dylan fell in love with cycling at a very young age and has played a unique role in NICA in that he both helped the NorCal High School Cycling League during its earliest years and then returned after a hiatus to start a family to found the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League. Having produced the first four NorCal State Championships alongside his then girlfriend (now wife), Jessica, he also coached his hometown high school’s mountain bike team and NICA is thrilled to have him (and Jessica) still involved!  Under Dylan’s leadership, the Idaho League has grown quickly and he has done an incredible job at building a community of volunteers who work together to support their coaches, student-athletes and volunteers. We recognize Dylan for his efforts over the past nearly 20-years in helping get #morekidsonbikes and congratulate him for vision and commitment to excellence in everything he pursues. 

“I love mountain biking. What I love even more is helping people live heather and happier life’s. I founded the Idaho League to improve the quality of peoples lives in Idaho while making real positive and impactful differences in students, parents and coaches lives. NICA’s Interscholastic programs work. Having been involved with Interscholastic Cycling for nearly 20 years and founding the original League, NorCal, in my living room with my friend Matt Fritzinger and then girlfriend and now incredibly supportive wife Jessica. I understood the transformative power a NICA League can have on communities. I’m proud and happy to have put in the work to found the Idaho League and take pleasure in knowing it’ll continue to positively impact hundreds and soon thousands of students, parents and coaches.” – Dylan Gradhandt

Photo: Alabama NICA Race Media

Eddie Freyer, Alabama League

With a passion for the sport of biking, along with a lifetime of working to introduce youth to the positive power of healthy living and the outdoors, Eddie founded the Alabama League in 2015 and has done an incredible job since then to strengthen the program.  Having earned his Eagle Scout in his earlier years, he has continued to exhibit extremely strong leadership and team building abilities in his role as the Alabama League Director and we are thrilled to see him and his family relocating to Boise, Idaho where he is assuming the role as the Idaho League Director. Not only did Eddie bring NICA to Alabama, but he has also successfully mentored his successor and has taken over a key position in another NICA league! Way to stay in the NICA Family!  

“I’m stoked to see NICA changing the game in a state dominated by ball sports. We’re seeing entire families involved in a sport they can ALL do — together and individually, at every age and any level, socially or competitively — for the rest of their lives. What other high school sports can claim that? And this is happening in one of the least “bike friendly” states, with one of the nation’s highest rates of obesity and inactivity. I feel lucky to have a job that involves bikes, and I’m honored to be part of something that’s making a difference.” – Eddie Freyer

GU Energy Extraordinary Courage Award

The Extraordinary Courage Award recognizes student-athletes who have persevered through challenging circumstances and overcome adversity to develop and excel as a model student-athlete.

Photo: Elizabeth Ginter

Ava GinterCarlisle Area HIgh School Composite, Pennsylvania League

Ava Ginter is a member of the Carlisle Area High School Team in the Pennsylvania League. Through NICA racing, she found her voice and strength when she decided to stray from traditional team sports. Despite her first 8th grade race ended in a DNF after a panic attack that had her escorted off the trail, she earned a fourth place finish in her second race where she was able to manage her anxiety. During some time off, Ava had an opportunity to reflect on the inner strength she felt while mountain biking. As a 9th-grader Ava earned a 5th place overall while quietly affirming under her breath that next year she’s going for a top-3-finish! Ava is a happy girl when she’s on her bike and riding makes her feel like she can conquer anything.

“NICA let’s me discover adventure through a challenging sport. Mountain biking is unpredictable and it forces you to push through rough trail.” – Ava Ginter

Photo: Fernando Lopez

Fernando Lopez, Southwest Houston Composite, Texas League

Fernando Lopez is a member of the Southwest Houston Composite Team in the Texas League. This polite and respectful young man is an extraordinary student-athlete and is the lynchpin of the team with his consistent positive attitude, strong work ethic and dedication to the team. Fernando is reliable and attends practice more than any of his teammates. Fernando’s has extraordinary work ethic which he demonstrated by working and saving enough money to buy not one, but two bikes – because he outrode the first one! Balancing his academic studies with mountain bike practice, his grades have not suffered one bit, even with multiple AP classes. Fernando is a fine example to his peers and to other prospective team members.

“The biggest thing separating the NICA league program from other interscholastic programs is the higher level of respect that the athletes have for one another. Despite the competition, there remains a sense of community among the bikers that you don’t see among competing teams in other sports. One instance that stood out to me was when last year during a race, my seat became loose and a rider from another team stopped to lend me his multitool so I could tighten it and keep riding. Rarely do you see something like this happening among competing teams in other sports.” – Fernando Lopez
 

Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award

The Specialized Student Athlete Leadership Award honors student athletes who have demonstrated outstanding leadership, sportsmanship, academic performance and volunteerism in their team, school and community.

Photo: Mike Brunelle

Kaia JensenWood River, Idaho League

Kaia Jensen is a varsity student-athlete, a leader and a volunteer. As captain for the Wood River Mountain Bike Team in Sun Valley, she rallies her team at practices, is an outspoken advocate for those riders less fortunate and goes out of her way to help all her teammates. Kaia also volunteers with her local trail advocacy group to build and maintain local trails.  Academically, Kaia is an outstanding student, she is fluent in French and has taken AP and online courses to have enough credits to graduate early. In addition to her strong academic pursuits, Kaia still finds the time and energy to lead her team and volunteer for her community.

“Since the introduction of NICA to our state, there have been more kids on our trails than ever before, and everyone, from students to volunteers to local sponsors, has been blown away by this incredible growth in our biking community. I believe that the ambience that NICA created in our valley has increased the motivation in student-athletes to get out and ride, giving us the opportunity to really grow into leadership positions on the team and in our community. NICA has improved my leadership skills exponentially by providing me with countless opportunities to be an active leader of our high school and middle school teams, which has earned me the nickname “the glue of the team” from our head coaches. NICA is different from other interscholastic sports because it is all-inclusive; anyone who wants to ride bikes is welcome, regardless of any limitations they may have. This creates a team of varied ability levels, and gives the more advanced student-athletes the opportunity to lead and coach the student-athletes who are newer to the sport. This creates a strong team atmosphere that is rewarding to all members, while still allowing each to succeed in their own way.” – Kaia Jensen

Photo: David Clark

Jared Clark, Southwest Houston Composite, Texas League

Jared Clark is the is captain for his team, Southwest Houston Composite High School in the Texas League and is an avid and talented multi-sport student-athlete. As a mountain biker, Jared is dedicated to furthering the mission of NICA’s 5 core values of Equality, Inclusivity, Strong Mind, Strong Body and Strong Character. He is a natural leader that inspires his community and finds a way to include others. Jared also gives back by creating opportunities and nurturing athletic development in his peers. His community leadership efforts have included increasing participation of a healthy active lifestyle (his Eagle Scout project) and fundraising for nonprofits aimed at finding a cure for GAN, a rare inherited genetic disorder. In addition to his deep community involvement and demonstrated commitment to his sports, Jared has achieved the National Honor Society while taking AP classes.

“I have gotten to meet other like-minded individuals who not only race NICA races with me but also race Xterra races with me. I actually met some former Texas League members while I was touring colleges with Mountain Bike programs over spring break. It was amazing to find out just how many had come from the Texas League since none of the colleges were near Texas. I first convinced my friend to start mountain biking because I knew it would be something she would really enjoy. She soon fell in love with the sport after only a few days. Unfortunately, a few days before her 2nd NICA race, she fell and tore a ligament in her wrist (taking her out of commission for the rest of the season). However, in true NICA spirit, she continued to show up for all of the races (even though she was taking 6 AP classes and could have easily stayed home to study). She spent multiple weekends camping, volunteering and cheering the rest of the team on. To me, this example shows how impactful the league is and what a great example it sets for the student athletes. The sheer volume and support from the Texas League is truly amazing. As one dad said, “it is the Woodstock of mountain bike racing”. It differs from the other varsity sports I participate in because of the team dynamic that is present. While we race individually, we do just about everything else together as a team. We set up camp, cook, work the feed zone and earn points as a team. In addition, we have the time and opportunity to enjoy the outdoors together whether it’s swimming in a nearby river or enduring the inevitable “once a season hailstorm.” – Jared Clark

 

SRAM Coach of the Year

The SRAM Coach of the Year Award acknowledges a head coach whose qualities as a leader and motivator embodies NICA’s mission to provide student-athletes with the coaching and camaraderie to help them achieve both competitive and non-competitive goals in a safe and enjoyable manner.

Photo: Ted Richardson

Tonya MiltierChapel Hill-Carrboro Composite, North Carolina League

Tonya Miltier is head coach for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Composite Team in the North Carolina League. She encourages each student-athlete to do their best and readily helps anybody that needs it. Tonya is affectionately known as the kid whisperer among her team because of her particular way of kneeling and speaking softly with student-athletes to motivate them to their best performance. Tonya creates opportunities to form community with and between all groups of student-athletes, parents and fellow coaches and has devoted countless hours to leading strategically planned practices. Tonya is a great role model for young girls and boys alike. Recognizing the special needs of female riders, Tonya put on separate, girl’s only rides for her female student-athletes. Under her tutelage, her team developed into a great community and achieved both competitive and non-competitive success. Being a NICA coach is Tonya’s way of sharing her passion for the sport with a very lucky group of kids.

“Being a part of the NICA family feels life changing. The community is so welcoming, giving, and appreciative – and the impact NICA is having on our student athletes’ character, minds and bodies is undeniable. It is an an honor to lead our team, and to also individually know and work with all of our student athletes and coaches. Our team focuses on cohesiveness and fun – and by focusing on these goals we have been afforded great success including team awards and podium spots, but most of all life long friendships, great rides and forever memories.” – Tonya Miltier

Photo: Boris Trifunovic

Boris TrifunovicBullthistles, New York League

Boris Trifunovic is the head coach for Chenago Composite in the New York League. Boris has a great love for the sport and embodies the NICA spirit and mission through his outreach, encouraging both new student-athletes as well as adult volunteers. He gets kids excited about mountain biking and makes it possible for them to participate at their level and interest. Regardless of a student’s path (racing or adventuring), he encourages them to keep working even when it’s hard, and to challenge themselves. He’s always looking for new ways and opinions to improve the team and club including holding spin classes over the winter and participating in trail maintenance. Boris is a great coach on and off the trails and his reward is seeing the happy youth participating in a healthy and rewarding pastime.

“I simply love mountain biking and what it is doing to me and has done for me. I love every aspect of the sport that became life style for me, but more than anything else I love to share the passion and excitement with others and kiddos in particular. I love to see the spark in their eyes, smiles and happiness that gloves from their faces after every ride; it never gets old. The sport of mountain biking has been very kind to me; it filled completely the void created by retiring from MX racing, to start with; life got only better as I got more involved in the sport. Mountain biking, and the NICA program and working with our team in particular helped me stay afloat, during tough times in my life; I was able to lift sails again and get out there, to feel freedom and joy that only exploring nature and outdoors on two wheels can provide. I am grateful for being a part of the NICA family and having an opportunity to share my enthusiasm for the sport with our young athletes and support them in reaching their goals in the sport and life. I enjoy watching them grow and develop from little cheese puffs to youngsters who know themselves, what they can do and what it takes to get it done. I often mention that life is not all about mountain biking, but mountain biking is all about life. No other sport provides as complete educational and developmental package nor does it have the same power of positively influencing our youth as mountain biking does, and that is exciting and inspiring. Our NY League staff is amazing; completely dedicated and focused on providing unconditional support and the best experience for the racers, coaches and families. The weather in NY is unreal; we get snowed on in April, rained on almost every race weekend, which makes it for more interesting and exciting riding and racing. It is inspiring watching those young athletes giving everything they got, regardless of the conditions; the worse conditions the more focused and committed they get. This is why I am giving everything I got to help as many kids as possible to connect with the sport and experience benefits it provides, and hopefully adopt it as a lifelong passion. This what makes me happy and brings best in me. This is what makes me who I am today; stronger, more focused, committed, better person and more alive than I ever was before. Thanks MTB, thanks NICA for allowing me to help change kids’ lives one bike experience at time.” – Boris Trifunovic

Photo: Mike Binkowski

Mike BinkowskiPrior Lake Mountain Bike Team, Minnesota League

Mike Binkowski is head coach for Prior Lake High School Team in the Minnesota League. Mike spends countless hours recruiting, coaching and educating kids and parents about mountain biking.  In just a few short years turned his 12-student roster into over 60. In addition to student outreach, he’s grown the program by assembling and coordinating adult volunteers to meet the needs and goals of his team and organized the team into multiple levels so that kids of all abilities can learn and compete but also enjoy the sport of biking at a level they feel comfortable. Mike’s tireless dedication to improve and enhance the sport of mountain biking for kids and adults alike is truly admirable. He loves this sport, the kids, and is an amazing coach who encourages everyone to always do their best on and off the trails. Mike is the heart and soul of his team and embodies the NICA core values as a coach, a lifelong biker, a dad/husband and as a human being.

“I started coaching seven years ago in the inaugural season of the MN High School Cycling league. I initially got involved as a way to encourage my own four kids to participate in the sport, but once I saw the impact this league had on the athletes, families and coaches, it quickly became my passion. The league has given me the the opportunity to work with and meet such an amazing group of coaches, families, league staff and of course the kids. Over the years I’ve had so many parents comment on how the team and league feels like an extended familly. I certainly have become friends with a number of outstanding people. Coaching my kids also gave me a unique opportunity to connect with them on a different level; at a time when most teenagers are pulling away, I felt a stronger bond with my kids as a result of coaching them on the team. It really is incredible when you look at the impact the league has had a so many kids and families. I’ve seen so many parents who haven’t riden a bike in years volunteer as ride leaders and end up finding a renewed passion for cycling. They cycle together as a family, plan and take vacations based around where they can ride trails together. In addition, for the student-athletes, I have seen kids that were searching for their ‘niche’ and finally found a sport and group of welcoming kids, coaches and competitors via the NICA Leagues. Kids have improved their situation with anxiety, ADHD, self-confidence and other issues as well as a result of getting out on a bike and building their confidence on the bike, which then carries over to their activities outside of the team. Many of these kids would never have talked to each other, much less hang out together, but through the league, those social structures are no longer an issue and these kids make new friends and support groups. The MN League difference from other traditional interscholastic sports really boils down to the five core values of NICA: Inclusive, Equal, Strong Mind, Strong Body, Strong Character. The fact that any kids, regardless of athletic skills or abililties on the bike, can join the team, be a part of team structure, challenge themselves to improve and race at every race, regardless of gender, skill level is what really set this league apart. In addition, I see a unque relationship between coaches and athletes, in that coaches are side-by-side with the athletes through every practice. Coaches on the team show through their actions that they aren’t asking athletes to do anything that coaches themselves wouldn’t do personally.” – Mike Binkowski

 

Trek All-Star Student-Athlete Award

The All-Star Student Athlete Award recognizes student-athletes for their outstanding competitive achievements and potential for future success in competitive cycling.

Photo: TMB Images

Anna ChristianWashburn High School, Minnesota League

Anna Christian is a member of Minnesota Leagues’s Washburn High School. After winning her first NICA race as an 8th-grader she was hooked and continued an impressive 14 consecutive race winning streak in the varsity category, earning the top spot for her 10th, 11th, and 12th grade seasons. Adding to her list of accomplishments includes competing in USA Cycling’s Nationals for both mountain and road cycling and was invited to the USA Cycling Select Talent ID Road camp at the Olympic Training facility. Anna plans to compete in Nationals for both mountain and road cycling in the future and also plans to race both mountain and road in college where she will pursue a degree in Environmental Design or a related area.

“Being apart of the NICA Minnesota League has given me the chance to meet far more people my age (especially girls!) that share my love of biking than I could have imagined. When I did the first ever Middle School race 5 years ago, it was so exciting to think that I could actually compete on a school bike team and it has been a such great experience. The NICA Minnesota League also given me the chance to find so many new friends, mentors, and young riders just starting out. It is a great community and really wonderful to part of a team. The NICA Minnesota League has has grown so much that I feel like we have all grown up together. In my opinion the Minnesota NICA League (and really all of the NICA leagues) are unique from other sports because everyone gets to participate and decide what the league means to them. I think its really important to give kids the freedom to make their experience into what they want and what works best for them, rather than letting someone else do it.” – Anna Christian

Photo: Michael Hemmerlin

Michael HemmerlinBrophy/Xavier Mountain Bike Team,  Arizona League

Michael Hemmerlin, joined the Brophy/Xavier Mountain Bike Team in the Arizona League as a freshman. He raced Varsity Division 1 as a junior and senior when he was named team captain. Michael gave it his all in every race while leading his team to 5th place in one race and 7th overall in Division 1 for the season. Among his many accomplishments, Michael has acquired 48 Arizona State Championship titles (Gold medals) in Road and Track and many more Silver and Bronze State Championship medals. His personal growth has been exponential and he’s well liked and respected in the local cycling community. Michael is a great ambassador and role model to the younger kids for the sport of cycling.  He is very passionate about cycling and dreams of turning professional after completing college where he plans to continue competing while he studies Mechanical Engineering.

“NICA has done much more for me than just provide me with a way to be competitive on a bike. I love the sport that I do but NICA racing brings in a whole different aspect of team comradery. Through NICA, I have formed friendships and relationships with people will people I otherwise wouldn’t have known. While kids and young adults have always been able to race mountain bikes in other leagues, no other organization has grown to the size of NICA. I started freshman year on a team of only a few kids. Now the Brophy mountain bike team has grown to over thirty riders in a few short years. NICA has made mountain biking a legitimate and recognizable sport in both my school and schools across the county. Many sports have a similar team aspect to NICA but no other sport requires the same level of team dedication and devotion as Mountain Biking. Hiking several miles out into the desert before or after a race to cheer on and support team mates is a common sight. Other sports are purely team or individual oriented, but high school mountain biking is a unique blend of both.” – Michael Hemmerlin

 

REI/International Mountain Bicycling Association Teen Trail Corps Award

The REI/IMBA Teen Trail Corps award is a new award this year that honors an indiviudual who has demonstrated respect, empathy and compassion towards other trail users by working both on and off the bike to build awareness and care for trails in their community.

Photo: Kiley Blumetti

Alexa AzzolinBeaumont High School Mountain Bike Team, SoCal League

Alexa Azzolin is the first Teen Trail Corps (TTC) Captain in the SoCal League, and also serves as the co-captain for the Beaumont High School Mountain BIking Team. Her leadership has gained her respect from her teammates that look to her for advice. Alexa strives to help every team member earn their TTC badges and aims to have an entire team of TTC captains before she graduates. She continuously demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion towards other trail users by working both on and off the bike to build awareness and care for trails in her community. As an honors student with a 4.50 GPA, Alexa is a highly regarded member of her team who is proud of her dedication to the sport, her studies, helping her community, and building up her teammates!

“I’ve never been involved in anything quite like the NICA SoCal League and everyday I am so beyond grateful of the opportunities it’s given me. I would definitely describe the league as nothing less than awesome! From the people, the races, the competition, and just the overall environment is incredible and makes being involved with Teen Trail Corps all the more worth it. I personally have just dove right into mountain biking, which extensively grew my self confidence along with my abilities to accomplish any goal or task I set my mind to. I’ve learned that if time and effort is put in, then great things will get done!” – Alexa Azzolin