If you told me a year ago that Richmond Composite would have riders racing at The CA State Championships in our first year as a team I would have laughed that notion off as pure fantasy. If you’d have told me we were going to States three weeks before the event, I would have shrugged it off as something with a low probability at best. Yet, as this team continues to do on all fronts, my assumptions about what will be, have been proven gloriously wrong. We made it to States!
Going to States wasn’t our goal in our first year—fun, community, adventure, exploration—these have been our goals. We trained, practiced and threw our whole selves into riding and racing while setting more humble goals as a new team. We helped each individual student athlete set their own unique goals to work toward as well. No one had the goal to make it to States.
So when Hunter jumped 16 spots in the last race of the year to qualify for States, we were stunned. We were also thrilled, but thoroughly dumbfounded. How did he? What place did he get? How did that happen?
And when Sergio crossed the finish line at his 5th race (the only Richmond Composite rider to complete every race this year) with another improvement we knew we were going to States.
So now it’s time to reflect on the year, to celebrate not just race placements and heroic efforts of riders who chose racing as their goal but of the team as a whole and some of the individuals who are written into the foundation of Richmond Composite in our historic first year.
Before we hosted our first Fun Ride in October 2017, the idea for Richmond Composite had been brewing for some time. Norcal League Program Director and Richmond resident Robert “Coco” Ramirez wanted to see a high school mountain bike team in his town. So did two amazing longtime Albany High School MTB team coaches, Daniel Santos and Jim Zahradka. Three men with hearts the size of Richmond, got together to host a screening of the documentary “Singletrack High” at local bike shop Rich City Rides to help generate interest for high school mountain biking in Richmond.
On a rainy January night a projector was set up around a couple of chairs on the shop floor. Pizza was ordered and we waited for kids to arrive. Maybe it was the rain and cold, maybe it was lack of promotion, maybe it was the relatively foreign concept of mountain biking in Richmond. We’ll never know, but only one high school kid arrived that night, dragged in with his mom and baby sister in tow. His name was Donovan and his mom Tamika. They ate pizza, watched the documentary and tried to make sense of what we were talking about when we said someday soon, there would be a high school mountain bike team in Richmond and that we wanted to get more kids interested.
When the guests left Jim, Daniel, Coco and I cleaned up and chatted outside. “What’s our next step?” We all offered what we could at the time, but it didn’t add up to a Richmond Team in the near future. We promised to stay in touch and keep the “momentum” up and parted ways.
Fast forward nine months and the team is as the beginning stages of taking form. Planning has long been underway-meetings with potential coaches, partner organizations, backroom “announcements” that the team was starting, this website launched and much more. Yet, beyond that first rainy gathering, we hadn’t made contact with any kids except for Donovan.
So we pushed on and prepared to host a series of Fun Rides with the goal of finding and introducing Richmond youth to mountain biking. We partnered with Trips For Kids for the fun rides which enabled us to focus on promotion and marketing and not have to worry about bike logistics. We brought the kids, Trips for Kids brought the bikes, helmets, gloves and some kind Ride Leaders.
We made a point to host the Fun Rides at four local parks located geographically within, but spread out among Richmond. The goal was to highlight the rich diversity of local parks present in Richmond while also showing how easily accessible green spaces are to residents throughout the area, no matter what part of the city someone lived in. We also wanted to have the rides be progressively more interesting and challenging for mountain biking which meant more hills, singletrack and nature.
The First Ride
On the morning of our first Fun Ride excitement and anticipation was high. We had seven youth RSVP to attend including two girls. I told coaches eager to attend the first gathering to please stay home so that we didn’t overwhelm kids with our enthusiasm and 1-to-1 adult to youth ratios. Pretty much all of the coaches found a (convincing) way to ignore my request and show up. I can’t blame them. I wanted to be there too. I wanted to see Richmond kids get on mountain bikes for the first time and feel the unique stoke that can only be experienced during a ‘first’.
So there we were, seven adults, scanning for kids at Nicholl Park, waiting. We watched the clock anxiously as we talked about the day and our expectations and roles as leaders and supporters. One kid showed up, a freshman named Emilio with his step dad Gabriel. He was shy and patient as we continued to wait for others to arrive. Five minutes past, then ten, then 15 and no one else was in site. We were all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Nervously I started texting and calling kids who had rsvp’d. Radio silence. Except for one person who picked up the phone. Tamika, Donovan’s mom. “Sorry, we’re going to miss this one. Donovan slept through his alarm.” Tamika said over the phone. “Get him up and get him here.” I replied encouragingly. “We’ll wait.”
30 or so minutes later Donovan arrived with the signature shrugged shoulders of a teenager who was just dragged out of bed by their mother to attend an activity they are less than thrilled about. “Hey Donovan!” We all cheered. “Let’s get you on a bike!” As if our collective enthusiasm could cure any and all apathy, we got Donovan fitted with a helmet and bike and although about an hour behind schedule, we got started with our first Fun Ride.
Luckily it lived up to its name and the next Fun Ride brought out four kids, including our returner Emilio and our first girl, Alex who was getting in some more practice time before joining the Albany High School team. We rode around Miller Knox park and the Bay Trail and celebrated our 100% growth rate from ride one to two. And then the lid blew off when our third ride brought out 12 kids for a ride at Alvarado and Wildcat Parks. It was a sign to come. There are lots of kids interested in riding or at least trying mountain bikes in Richmond. It was the first time we coaches thought, “Wow, we might actually have a problem of too big a team this year.”
But a Fun Ride rider is not a team rider until the papers are signed and the kids keep showing up at practices. So when we wrapped up our fourth and final Fun Ride and prepared for our first team meeting to actually start the season, there was still plenty of trepidation as to whether any of our outreach efforts would equate to kids signed up to be on the team.
In early December 2017, we hosted a team meeting at Rich City Rides. We invited over 40 kids and their families who expressed interest in attending a Fun Ride. Of those 40 who had expressed interest in out team, about 18 had actually showed up for a Fun Ride. Emilio had attended every Fun Ride (he was a shoe-in) but every one else was a big question mark. Would Jacob come through? What about Taesaun? and JoJo? Would William or Daylan roll through the door? What about all those girls who said they’d come to a Fun Ride and then bailed or never responded?
At the team meeting, six kids showed up, many of them with a parent or family member and we talked about the team. We went through the season and what to expect. We walked through races and practices. We gave away a lot of free gear, had some snacks and most importantly signed people up for the team using borrowed tablets and laptops and cell phone browser windows.
We walked away from that meeting amazed. In just a couple months an idea went from just a conversation to a reality. We were on our way.
From then on, the entire season unfolded as a series of miraculous firsts—first practice, first team kit, first girl rider, first race, first camping trip, first fundraiser and on and on. We basked in it, hustled our butts off as coaches and tried to stay present while continually preparing for the next challenging ‘first’. We propped the barn door wide open for the season and put out an oversized welcome mat inviting a steady stream of students and potential coaches in to get a taste of what our team was all about. Our initial six students ballooned to a total of 17 by the end of the season including four girls who came out to ride with us. More coaches joined too, rounding out the season with 10.
It was tough managing the ongoing season while essentially recruiting through May, but it was worth it. More kids got a chance to check out mountain biking outside of the small Fall recruitment window and connections were made that will serve this team in the future as we continue to grow.
By the time the gun went off at States in May, we’d already won. We’d won when we had our first Fun Ride and Emilio showed up excited to ride and join a team. We won when six kids showed up for the team meeting and signed up, on the spot to join the team. We won when over 100 people gave bikes, equipment, money and time to support our growing team. We won when Lily, our first female rider, fearlessly jumped on a trail for the first time and took to it like a fish to water, becoming an instant leader and force on our team. We won when we got to go to races and be cheered on by other teams and parents, fed by Berkeley High School’s amazing volunteers, and test ourselves as a team and individuals. We are winning each time we create a connection in the community that will last beyond these seasons, practices and blogs.
As we head into our second year as Richmond Composite, I feel as if we’ve already accomplished so much. And yet, we’re just getting started. 10 girls are joining our team. All members of the team who joined us last year and did not age out due to graduation are returning. More local adults have been inspired to join us as coaches and our community partnerships continue to flourish. One of our student riders who graduated in the Spring is returning to the team this season as a coach while he goes to community college. The world wants Richmond Composite to succeed. So do I.
Here’s to year two! See you on the trail.
-Doug Streblow // Head Coach Richmond Composite
If you want to get involved and support our team, reach out. We’d love to have your support.