Milwaukee mountain biking teams want to make the sport accessible

Ninth-grader Sydney Tezak loves biking in the woods.

Maneuvering her mountain bike down dirt trails through trees, rocks and roots takes her mind off any stressors going on at school, at home or with friends.

“The scenery and taking in the peace is calming, but at the same time, you don’t have to think about anything else. You’re focused on just riding a bike,” she said.

Tezak is a member of MKE MTB, a competitive mountain biking team organized through Milwaukee Recreation that’s made up of middle and high school students from Milwaukee Public Schools.

Tezak joined the team in middle school because her older brothers were already members, and she thought their practices looked like fun. She’d tried other sports in the past, including soccer, but said none stuck quite like mountain biking.

Racing brings her serenity.

“In the middle of a race, you just focus on going quickly, sweeping around the obstacles,” she said. “You feel rewarded passing people in that last stretch of the race when the adrenaline is kicking in.”

Milwaukee Mountain Bike students, including Riano Leyes (second from right) and Sydney Tezak (right), make their way to a nearby bike path on Thursday, July 21, 2022 at the MacDowell Community Center in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee’s newest high school sport

MKE MTB started seven years ago after Wisconsin joined the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA — the national governing body for competitive youth mountain biking.

Technically, mountain biking is a high school sport just like football, volleyball or cross country, Andrew Rossa, the program coordinator for MKE MTB, explained. However, since mountain biking is overseen by NICA, rather than the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association as most high school sports are, the rules are slightly different.

For starters, NICA welcomes athletes as young as seventh grade.

Jennine Pufahl, assistant coach and team director of the Northshore Composite, Whitefish Bay and Nicolet mountain biking teams, sees this as a benefit.