Sports like football, basketball and baseball may take up most Colorado high school sports fans’ attention, but at Golden High School, the mountain bike team is quickly turning heads.
The team, which was founded in 2010 and has grown exponentially since, currently has over 100 members from all grades and experience levels across the team’s four squads — varsity, junior varsity, sophomores and freshmen.
Chip Starick, the team’s head coach and a lifelong mountain bike rider himself, started with the team about six years ago when his daughter got involved in the team’s developmental program from one of GHS’ feeder middle schools, where Starick says the goal is to develop riders that are “good enough to race.”
The team races in the Colorado High School Cycling League, where they compete in the Platte Region alongside 18 other local high school teams, including those from Littleton and Fort Collins High Schools and Ralston Valley in Arvada. In total, the Colorado League is comprised of over 160 high schools, with teams in every corner of the state and in parts of Wyoming, South Dakota and New Mexico.
Starick is quick to point out that while the competitive aspect of the races can be a core component of being on the team for students, for some riders it’s just plain fun.
“The nature of [the team] is that we try to be inclusive of everybody,” Starick said. “We do not require that kids race, but we encourage it.”
As the team has grown in size and presence in the Golden community, several corporate sponsors have invested in the growth and long-term success of the team, including the Stevinson Toyota West dealership in Lakewood and a local insurance agent, which Starick says have been instrumental in getting students to get a bike if they have trouble affording it as well as helping out with funding bike repairs.
Though not a sanctioned sport by the Colorado High School Activities Association, the state’s governing body in charge of high school sports underneath schools’ athletic departments, Starick says many aspects of the program are run like one and volunteer coaches need to undergo similar training and protocols in order to be eligible to coach in one of three tiers.
“We have concussion training and training on suicide prevention and all these different things,” Starick said. “It’s really pretty thorough.”
Corey Wilkosz, another one of the team’s coaches who helps coordinate trail work across the seven different Jefferson County trails the team practices on, is in his second year with the team and got involved as a way to give back to the community.
“It's been really rewarding to see how much fun the kids have,” Wilkosz said. “When you’ve been mountain biking for so long, the little things that you've come to take for granted they completely appreciate.”
Cate Logan, a senior at GHS and a four-year member and team captain, is looking forward to the races this fall after sitting out of last season with a broken collarbone.
“I want to do well and kind of prove myself since I didn't get to last year,” Logan, said. “I've been training outside of practice, but that is also not a huge focus on the mountain bike team. We have people who are here to race and to win and we also have people who are here just to get outside and ride bikes and that's what makes the team so special.”
While Logan has embraced the competitive aspect, some newer students on the team are simply enjoying the ride and seeing where it takes them.
Madeline Bonilla is a sophomore and in her first year on the team. She said the community surrounding mountain biking “sounded great” and that the welcoming coaches got her interested in the sport as a whole.
“My main goal is just to have fun, and to enjoy myself and to get stronger on the mountain bike,” Bonilla said.
With support from GHS administration, sponsors and parent volunteers, Starick believes the team’s best days are ahead of them, regardless of how they fare competitively against other programs.
“Some of these kids don't even ride that well," he said. "They may be way behind everybody else, but they still have a smile on their face and they're competing and learning the lessons of life that come along with competing, so that's pretty cool to me.”