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JAMIE LUSCH / MAIL TRIBUNESierra Samhammer rides on the White Rabbit Trail in Ashland Tuesday. The 13-year-old plans to compete in a new statewide interscholastic mountain-biking league.

Mountain-biking teens get league of their own

Sierra Samhammer powers her mountain bike down Ashland’s White Rabbit Trail, deftly executing a banked turn before launching herself off a jump, bike and body as one.

She pumps her brakes, skidding to a stop. Not bad at all for a 13-year-old. But is it good enough to beat a 30-year-old in a mountain-biking race?

“I really like trying to beat people I know who might be better than me,” says Samhammer, a Cascade Christian School sixth-grader.

“But I don’t have anybody who’s telling me what I’m doing right or wrong, and I don’t have people to push me to do things I wouldn’t do on my own.”

Samhammer and other teens looking to test their mettle on pedals are about to have their competitive juices juiced and thirst for improvement quelled in a new mountain-biking league of their own.

The Rogue Valley is one 11 Oregon and one Washington community prepping to join the inaugural Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League to give young mountain bikers from sixth through 12th grades a chance to compete against each other in the state’s newest club sport.

The Rogue Valley group likely will be racing in four one-day races sprinkled around the state next fall, with a ranch off Highway 140 eyed to possibly host one of them.

Teen riders in 22 states already are competing in state leagues under an umbrella organization called the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, says Heather Wolfgang, a league representative in Portland who is helping communities put teams together and train adult volunteer coaches.

While teams train as co-eds, boys and girls race separately, middle-schoolers will be divided by grade, and high-schoolers will have junior varsity and varsity teams.

Races consist of multi-elevation loop trails of 4 to 6 miles, with the different age classes competing along age-appropriate laps, says Rebeccah Bieri, a life-long mountain biker who will be the Rogue Composite team’s head coach.

The cities where potential coaches have shown interest in setting up a team for next fall are in their preseason, during which they can recruit would-be racers and have small community family rides and conduct workshops, such as how to repair bicycles, Wolfgang says.

The Rogue Composite team plans a June 7 parent and student information night at 6 p.m. in Classroom 32 in Southern Oregon University’s Lithia Pavilion, says Casey Botts, one of the Rogue team’s coaches. A skills clinic is planned for June 9, Botts says.

Team membership costs $275, with $50 going to the parent organization, $25 toward liability insurance and the rest toward expenses, Wolfgang says.

For more information, email Botts at cbotts38@gmail.com.

So far, a few dozen kids have shown interest in the league, Bieria says.

“I just wish this was around when I was in school,” says Bieri, 38, an occupational therapist in Medford.

Beginning July 1, teams can practice up to four times a week, Wolfgang says.

While club sports such as trap shooting have popped up for teens competing in nontraditional sports on the high-school level, the mountain-biking league has created great traction among middle-schoolers, Wolfgang says.

“In some leagues, middle-schoolers make up more than 50 percent of those interested,” Wolfgang says. “Why not? There’s no benchwarmers, no tryouts. Anyone who wants to try it gets to.”

Tavi Paulazzo is no benchwarmer.

At 13 years old, the Willow Wind Learning Center seventh-grader is more than stoked to get on the slopes to compete.

“I’m an adrenalin junkie, so I love the feeling of going down the mountain at 40 miles per hour,” Paulazzo says. “It’s so fun to know you’re on the edge of dying, or really getting hurt.”

He’s crashed a few times, with no broken bones. But he did have a pretty epic biff on the Jabberwocky Trail that left him a bit bloody and with a trashed derailleur.

“Not too fun,” he says.

Like Paulazzo, Samhammer comes to the new league with plenty of competitive BMX riding in her background.

Her interest in bicycle racing dates back to a kindergarten show-and-tell session when a classmate brought in a bike-racing trophy almost as big as him.

“I wanted to try it because I wanted a big trophy like that,” Samhammer says.

She started BMX riding and quickly learned “that I really loved riding my bike,” Samhammer says.

Samhammer runs track and plays soccer, but the thought of riding competitively on behalf of the Rogue Valley has her excited.

“I like being free on my bike — ride over stuff and not have to deal with anything,” she says. “And beating people at it.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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