The Community Organizer

By wpdev January 19, 2010

[Published January, 2010, Mountain Bike Magazine]

Matt Fritzinger, Executive Director of the newly Formed National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) tells us why mountain biking can compete with high school football.

By Pete Rognli

Back in the ’90s, Fritzinger was teaching math at Berkeley High when he posted a flyer advertising a cycling club. He had a road-riding group in mind, but he quickly switched to dirt when he realized one fundamental truth: Teenagers love mountain biking. Fritzinger has since grown that club into the NorCal and SoCal MB racing leagues, and launched the NICA this past October.

Is mountain bike racing safe for kids?
Statistically you see more injuries in football than in mountain biking. And there are other sports, like cross-country running, where kids aren’t supervised 100 percent of the time. We have a best-practices manual for coaches, and we’ll soon be implementing a licensing program.

Will a coaching licensor from the NICA help schools with risk management?
Liability is something schools are going to have to grow comfortable with. The real issue we’re talking about is creating a societal shift toward accepting a new sport. Imagine trying to sell football as a brand-new sport: ‘We’re going to dress a bunch of boys in gladiator-like pads and helmets and allow them to wage war on a grassy field. It will be a mono-gender sport, but we’ll let girls in miniskirts jump up and down from the sidelines.’ It would never fly. And I have no issues with football. But I also feel confident and unapologetic about promoting mountain biking to schools and coaches. It’s good for kids. It’s good for schools, for families and—when you think about promoting an activity that can ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of the U.S.—it’s good for society. That should be an easy sell for administrators and parents.

Any aspirations to move into downhill?
Downhill racing is venue dependent. In most communities there isn’t a place where you can set up a legal practice course. We’re enjoying a tremendous amount of success with cross-country. I don’t want to dilute that by adding a sport that isn’t accessible to most schools. At the same time we honor and support kids with downhill ambitions. Same goes for road racing. Many league racers go on to become world-class athletes across the disciplines.

There are currently 40 teams in NorCal and 14 in SoCal. What’s the next step?
We’ve just launched a Colorado league. I estimate having at least 100 riders in Colorado this first season. By 2015, the plan is to have leagues up and running in 10 states, including Washington, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Utah.

What’s your office like?
We just moved into a new 2,000-square-foot facility. We’re overworked and understaffed.

So does that mean you’re hiring?
I wouldn’t put that in the magazine.

How can I get involved?
Three ways: Attend one of our conferences in Southern and Northern California, Washington or Colorado on best practices for youth cycling; email for dates. Second, you could create a committee to help form teams and a league in your home state; email me for support. Finally, the NICA is a nonprofit and depends on the continued support of passionate cyclists who want their sport to become as accessible as soccer, baseball and football; visit for donation information.

What can racing teach about life?
Mountain biking builds a connection between kids, the outdoors and their community. Putting young people in a position of responsibility for their own machine while making them part of a team teaches both self-reliance and teamwork. It teaches kids to think beyond themselves.