Ziggy Raasch downshifts and exhales hard as he climbs a hill through the Kettle Moraine forest on a mountain bike race course. He’s one of dozens of high school student athletes assembled to compete in a high school sport new to most Wisconsin-based students and families. Mountain biking is not new to Ziggy, however. He discovered the excitement and freedom of pedaling down river parkway trails at age nine when his family moved to Glendale.
Ziggy is better positioned for this type of experience than most children growing up in the central areas of Milwaukee. A typical urban teenager, lacking a bike with front and rear suspension and access to trails, will not experience the fun and freedom of testing skills and physical limits on a dirt trail.
A new program introduced in 2015 is hoping to change this. Andrew Rossa, a recreation coordinator with the MPS Recreation Department, along with local biking and health advocates, is bringing mountain biking opportunities to urban youth. Their MKE MTB initiative (MTB stands for mountain bike) drew in 9 student athletes last year and they are hoping to double the number of participants in 2016.
No need to own a bike
“One of the best features of the program is that we provide bikes and helmets for the student athletes. You don’t need to bring your own,” Rossa explains. He and Riverside High School teacher Paul Zettel have worked hard to secure an inventory of sport-specific bikes.
Getting the word out via urban social influencers
Team Director Bill Koch is helping to recruit for the 2016 season. He indicates that the group would love to find existing urban mountain bikers who could help spread the word. “We need social influencers who mountain bike, love it, and can share that excitement with the teens in their networks.”
MKE MTB is currently recruiting for the 2016 summer and fall seasons. Students residing in Milwaukee County can sign up for a six-week summer ride program starting in late June at either MacDowell Montessori School on the city’s west side and Riverside University High School on the city’s northeast side.
Both sites will offer male and female ride leaders and will guide students of all skill levels. Regardless of whether an individual has never ridden a mountain bike or if they’re already racing competitively, the program has a spot for them.
The competitive racing season takes place in the fall from early August to late October. Students may again register for either the MacDowell or Riverside sites. The program includes after school practices and encourages participation in up to four races near the towns of Waukesha, Iola, Hayward, and Mt Morris. Transportation to race sites is provided via MPS school bus.
Rossa, Zettel, and Koch hope their program-building efforts can match Ziggy Raasch’s all-out hill climbing effort to create something special for urban youth. Feeling exhausted is good when you arrive at the top of the hill and see the results of your labor.
Individuals who have ideas for bringing the recruitment effort to a wider audience can contact Andrew Rossa at 414-475-8942 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To register for the program, students and families can check out page 10 of Milwaukee Recreation’s 2016 Summer Recreation Guide or visit their web site at http://www.milwaukeerecreation.net/srec/.
Further information is available at the MKE MTB web site at http://milwaukeemtb.com.