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Taylorsville Journal

West Granite Composite ‘family’ bikes its way to the top

Oct 21, 2020 02:57PM ● By Greg James

Kierra Kemp is one of four girls riding for the West Granite Composite Mountain Biking Team. She competes in the freshman girls division. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Davis)

By Greg James | [email protected] 

The Utah High School Cycling League has grown immensely since its inception in 2012. The West Granite Composite team was organized recently to encompass student-athletes from several westside schools.

Mountain biking is not an official sport recognized by the Utah High School Activities Association and because of that, they lack support from many schools. That has not stopped Granite School District students from forming a team or, as they call it, an ohana (Hawaiian for family).

“Every person on the team is important,” composite coach Rochelle Bartschi said. “Every one of our kids cheers for and makes the other team members feel like they are part of our family. We have a good range of abilities on our team.”

The team is made up of 17 riders. The high school-aged athletes come from Cyprus, Granger, Hunter, Kearns and Paradigm high schools. The team also has seven middle school-aged students from Granite School District feeder junior highs and charter schools. 

In the league, many of the more established teams have about 150 riders and have large sponsorships from cycle shops and businesses. West Granite has made great strides in competing against and learning the sport but lacks aspects the larger teams have garnered because of their experience.

The team is still acquiring the necessary equipment such as trailers, bike racks and hydration packs. 

“Most of the kids who come out are beginners. We work with them on their basic skills in practice. One day a week we train and then we go onto trails to implement the skills they have been working on. It is good to practice because we can stop and let them try obstacles again and again. It could be a rocky section or downhill trail they can do it until they feel comfortable,” Bartschi said. “When they come to an obstacle they know how to tackle it and know they can overcome. That translates into life.”

In cooperation with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and the Utah High School Cycling League new riders are coached by certified adults and can have access to loaner bikes and equipment.

No matter the rider’s skill level they still compete. Each is placed into his or her skill level and rides against the same level riders.

“Everyone gets to play, no one is ever benched. This takes a lot of practice if they have a good attitude they can do it and become a team player,” Bartschi said. “At our first race, it was pretty good. All of the kids finished and that was a wonderful experience. Every other year I have had one or two kids that weren’t able to.”

The racers have lap time limits and are monitored for injuries and dehydration. Track officials can pull the rider if they fall behind or exhibit patterns of being unsafe. 

At the first race of the season in Price, Kearns sophomore Tucker Grappendorf finished fourth in his division and landed the team’s first-ever podium finish. At the second event of the season, he placed second.

“The kids have been pouring their hearts and minds into practicing. They have done well at the races because they have dedicated everything they have to be successful,” Bartschi said.

Mountain biking is not just a boys sport, either. Currently, girls represent 20% of NICA’s overall student-athlete participation. A new initiative, ‘GRiT’ (Girls Riding Together), seeks to increase the number significantly. 

“This can be absolutely a girls sport. Our first year we only had one girl on the team, we have four this year. I feel like once they ride they will get hooked,” Bartschi said. “They compete against other girls at their level. There are some amazing girls that have come into this sport.”

Not having a bike does not hold back its participants.

“We will find a bike. This year we have had so much parent involvement. We support the riders, and it is very inclusive,” Bartschi said.

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