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Portage - David Hertel is a 16-year-old long snapper who will play varsity football at Lake Mills High School this fall.
But he also intends to compete in a new school sport that's attracting hundreds of students in Wisconsin and across the country: mountain bike racing.
"I'm an adrenaline junkie, and this just clears my head," Hertel said on a recent sunny day at Cascade Mountain. The grounds of the winter ski resort had been groomed to accommodate a 5-mile, off-road mountain bike course.
Behind him, 45 middle school and high school students swerved, skidded and bunny-hopped over cones during a daylong training camp meant to fuel interest in the new Wisconsin High School Cycling League launching this fall. The league will include a series of four races between Aug. 31 and Oct. 19.
The Wisconsin league is among the latest to join the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which fosters school mountain biking programs across the country. The nonprofit launched in 2009 after a couple of California teachers started popular mountain bike racing programs in their schools.
Growth has been rapid. The association oversees 13 leagues in 12 states, including Wisconsin. About 4,500 student athletes nationwide are expected to compete this year.
"It's growing like crazy," said Kathy Mock, co-director of the new Wisconsin league. Mock, who lives in Lake Mills and used to work for Trek Bicycle Corp., started a local youth mountain bike club two years ago that quickly swelled to 85 kids.
Mock, 52, campaigned to make sure the new Wisconsin league would be open to sixth- through 12th-graders. Some other state leagues also are experimenting with middle-school programs.
Not surprisingly, the activity has generated interest among bicycle companies as well. "Singletrack High," a 2013 documentary about the California student athletes of the NorCal High School Cycling League, was funded by Singletrack High Specialized Bicycle Components.
Wisconsin-based Trek has supported the national association and provided $20,000 in seed money to launch the state league. Some Trek employees are volunteer coaches.
"It's unbelievable to watch these kids," Mock said. "We take them to a green space, teach them how to get their weight back. Light hands, heavy feet. They pick it up so quickly, and when you teach them how to bike properly, it's not that difficult."
There are 18 teams in the inaugural Wisconsin league, from Milwaukee, Hartford and Lake Geneva all the way to Madison, Wausau and La Crosse.
Teams are from specific schools, or from collections of schools, such as the Riverside/Milwaukee Public Schools team or the Ozaukee Washington County Composite team, where any interested area student who wants to learn and make the practices is invited to join.
Kids who want to do the race series but who don't have a team to join nearby can race independently. Mock said most teams are still accepting new members. Officially, teams could start practicing July 1.
Unlike many mainstream ball-and-stick school sports, the mountain bike teams are open to anybody who wants to give it a try. That includes kids who might not have the resources to buy their own gear. There's a booster fund to make sure bikes and scholarships - either for training camps or team dues - are available to children who need them.
Schools also are buddying up to support each other. The Shorewood High School team, for example, may do training rides or share resources with the Riverside University High School/MPS team.
Riverside coach Chris Hanson, who rides for fun when he's not working at Children's Hospital in cancer research, said the biggest challenge is getting parents to sign the mandatory insurance forms - a requirement for kids to participate.
"We'd really like to see bikes be a connector," Hanson said. "I think a lot of people would like to see kids from the city out riding and learning."
In line with the format encouraged by the national association, the interscholastic competitions are two-day affairs that take place over the weekend, often with a camp-out Saturday night.
Students race all day Sunday; girls first, with middle school, junior varsity and varsity divisions.
Some local children already race in the youth divisions of the Wisconsin Off Road Series, the mountain bike and road running competition series run by Don Edberg, who is a co-director of the new interscholastic league.
The courses for the interscholastic races will be less technical than the WORS youth division courses, to accommodate more skill levels.
"I think it's good to have something just for kids," Edberg said.
The young cyclists at the Cascade Mountain camp noted the differences in mountain bike racing from other team sports: Everybody cheers for everybody. It's fun to be outside instead of in a gym. There are fewer annoying parents.
"I just thought it was a cool sport," said Stella Bloomer, 12, of Madison, who spent the morning learning to transfer her weight to pop a small wheelie so she could bike over a curb. "You get to actually learn how to do trails."
Ross Rushin, 31, who works in mountain bike marketing for Trek and agreed to coach one of the new teams, said getting a wider group of young people involved helps secure the sport for the future.
"A lot of kids who play soccer, football or baseball will stop at some point," she said. "Mountain biking is a sport you can keep doing."
Austin McInerny, 47, the executive director of the national association who lives in Berkeley, Calif., said the leagues are growing so fast in part because there wasn't a good network before to connect schools and cycling programs.
"You're taking a kid out who is really nervous about riding a bike, and then you train them and give them support and the next thing you know, within that first season they're gaining physical strength and confidence, and that becomes pretty addictive," McInerny said.
He said it's also one of the few sports where boys and girls train together.
"This is a place where you get to spend time with your peers around adults who are modeling good behavior and respect for each other," he said. "All of that helps instill strong bodies, minds and character."
18 Teams in inaugural Wisconsin league, from Milwaukee, Hartford and Lake Geneva to Madison, Wausau and La Crosse.