The dust settles, MTB teams remain school sponsored

Keely Ganong

Marin County, widely referred to as the birthplace of mountain biking, is home to three wildly successful high school mountain bike teams. In recent weeks, however, the three teams part of the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) have experienced confusion and panic surrounding the future of their high school teams.

On Tuesday May 11, the TUHSD administration held a meeting to discuss the current operations of the three teams with site administration, mountain bike team coaches and advisors in attendance. The meeting concluded with participants under the impression that the district was separating itself from the teams and the sport would no longer be sponsored by the schools. However, following community backlash, the district clarified their decision. Instead of being harmed, the teams will ultimately benefit and be recognized as school-sponsored sports more formally than before. Julia Violich, director of the Redwood mountain bike team, attended the meeting along with coaches from Archie Williams (formerly known as Drake) and Tamalpais High School.

Celebrating their last official NorCal race of the season, the Redwood mountain bike team poses triumphantly. (Photo Courtesy of Jen Northrop.)

“We were told in that meeting that as of July 1, we were no longer sponsored by the school, there would be no faculty involvement, no coaches on campus [and] we couldn’t have the mascot; they changed everything,” Violich said. 

Coaches communicated this information back to their teams and it was quickly circulated between TUHSD parents and students. The news was then amplified online before the district offered any clarity. The Save Marin High School Mountain Biking website, created by an Archie Williams parent, stated the district was “killing Marin High School Mountain Biking.” Encouraging people to “join the fight,” Archie Williams junior Taz Fruhauf created an online petition that gained over 3,500 signatures since its creation on May 14. There was anger and frustration as people assumed decisions had already been made.

On May 15, TUHSD administration released a statement in order to clarify their position.

“It was never the intention of the District or Board to disband mountain biking, however, it appears that not all present for the meeting left the table with the same understanding and some misinformation has gone out to the community,” TUHSD said.

Failed communication resulted in a frantic community response. Leslie Harlander, TUHSD Board President, noticed how the information circulating generated misconceptions.

“[The students] are hearing the same information I’m hearing and I know that the information I’m hearing is not all accurate. I’ve gotten emails from students thinking that we’re getting rid of mountain biking and it pains me to read that because we’re not,” Harlander said.

The panic subsided as the community was reassured that the district was not in fact shutting out the program like many had assumed.

Launching off the start line, Senior Sean Middleton begins his time trial lap during the Six Sigma time trial on May 16. (Photo Courtesy of Adrian Nacamulli.)

“It took less than thirty-six hours of pushback for the district to realize that they made a mistake and that’s it, now we’re back to being a sponsored club,” Violich stated.

The shared solution, agreed upon by TUHSD administration and the three district mountain biking coaches and advisors, recognizes the three clubs as school-sponsored clubs more formally than before. The agreement was explained in further detail during a TUHSD Board meeting on May 25. Mountain biking team operations will remain generally the same as previous years, but the shared solution puts this formally in writing. With their new status as school-sponsored clubs, starting in the 2020-2021 school year, the school’s name can be used in the official club name, mascot, logo and uniforms. Athletes can also receive a varsity letter. 

“I feel very satisfied with what’s happened in the last week and a half. We are really looking forward to continued growth and it’s very nice for us to have our actual relationship [with the district] in writing. I feel that we’re ready to take the next step and continue to support our student athletes,” Violich said.

Maggie Nelson, captain of the Archie Williams mountain bike team, has been riding on the team for all four years of high school. She shares her appreciation for the program as well as the district during a public comment period at the May 25 meeting.   

“I’ve been able to grow as a person and develop important leadership skills. I’ve built relationships in this community that will last my entire lifetime. When I initially heard that maybe it was the end of the road for mountain biking and that I was no longer going to be able to race for my high school, I was distraught and angry. I’m really glad that [the district is] working towards this solution,” Nelson said.

Despite a short period of turbulence, the mountain biking program will continue its long-standing success with the support of its passionate community.

“It’s nice for it to be formally in writing now. It makes me as a director feel more confident about the sustainability of the sport,” Violich said.