High School League Season Opener goes Huge

We just finished a hectic week of meetings and events for CORBA, including Friday’s fundraiser, meetings with State Parks and National Forest, and an IMBA board meeting and meet and greet. Yesterday, Sunday February 26, 2012, was probably the most fun though: the season opener of the So Cal High School Mountain Bike League.

A league race, if you haven’t seen one, is an incredible spectacle. The racing is extremely well run, very professional, and highly organized. The race follows guidelines and protocols established after more than twelve years of experience of the NorCal league, and now nationally coordinated through NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.

There were well over 300 racers at the event, and probably double that in families, friends and coaches.  CORBA was present as a show of support and to provide information about advocacy, responsible trail use and trail maintenance. We also took the opportunity to present the 2011 CORBA Award to Banner Moffat  (friends of El Prieto) and Matt Gunnell (the League Director) as an acknowledgement for their contributions to open space trails and the mountain biking  community in Southern California.

While all the heats are taken seriously and exciting to watch, the Varsity boys race is looking like it will be especially brutal and competitive this year. Cody Phillips, last year’s winner, came in second, just three seconds after Shane Skelton. The first four finishers were just ten seconds apart, and the first ten places were less than two minutes apart with at least six lead changes during the four-lap, 22-mile race.

What’s really impressive is that after the event instead of everyone packing up and heading home, entire teams and their friends and family stay on for the awards, a true indication of the camaraderie and supportive atmosphere of the league. There were hundreds of people applauding and cheering for those on the five-deep podiums.

During the awards, Steve Messer of CORBA spoke to the gathered crowd, talking about trailwork and advocacy.  He then surprised  Banner and Matt with their 2011 awards from CORBA. Gunnell then went on to talk about the importance of trailwork, encouraging all the teams to devote at least one team day doing trailwork as part of their high school program.

Below the break are some pictures that capture the spirit of the day.

CORBA there to support:

Hammering to the finish:

Staging the field:

Varsity Boys ready to start:

They’re off:

Cody Phillips jumps off the line:

JV boys follow:

Loose conditions make for a soft landing:

Second lap and the lead pack order now has Casey Williams, an independent racer, in front:

The lead pack pins it:

Next lap, Phillips was way out in front:

Jesse Rogers goes for the inside pass to third place, but Casey Williams holds him off:

Phillip’s jump was too early, and the chase pack pacelines into a strong headwind wind to close the gap on Phillips, who is going it alone. Fourth and final lap and Shane Skelton is in the lead:

Phillips closed most of the gap, coming in just three seconds behind Skelton, with third and fourth place finishers closely following.

Then the awards, a highlight of the day:

Steve Messer’s turn to talk about advocacy:

Matt and Banner with their CORBA awards:

Varsity Girls… it helps that Hannah Rae Finchamp happens to be the world Xterra champ, and is also on the San Gabriel Composite team.

Varsity Boys: Shane Skelton, Cody, Jesse, Lee and Casey:

Nate has his eyes on the 2015 series. He’s ten, and already a well-respected racer with a social activist heart. He founded, at nine years old, the “Mountain biking for Pablove” team. We look forward  to seeing him, and others like him race in the league in the coming years.


His future teammates love Nate (and show it by picking on him  :

The series includes team awards, where teams are scored based on the combined scores of their top boys AND girls.

Some of the teams are huge… and growing year after year:

These events are some of the most fun, uplifting and rewarding things to witness. The parents are out there supporting the kids from all the teams. The coaches are not standing on the sidelines shouting at referees, but rather, encouraging and supporting every athlete no matter their experience or skill. or even which team they race on.

During the training sessions the coaches are typically riding trails there right alongside the kids instead of yelling drill-sergeant instructions with a whistle from the sidelines or in the gym. Many of these kids will be mountain bikers for life, something that just can’t be said about high school ball sports. There’s a real team camaraderie, within teams and between different teams and the League as a whole. Many parents and friends have taken up mountain biking, or dusted off their old klunkers to start riding again. It’s growing the sport immensely. The most common response is, “I wish we had high school mountain biking when I was a kid.”

We are honored and very happy to be involved and support the league, and would encourage any of you who have up and coming kids to think about it…

Here’s the most impressive image of the awards… too wide to include in the forum: Awards

This is the future of our sport!

More photos are on smugmug at and on Facebook.

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