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Know Your Madisonian: Mountain bike coach is all about inclusion

December 30, 2018

Mike McGarry’s office inside West High School is lined with trophies his mountain bike teams have won the last several years.

This year, McGarry’s combined co-ed team of middle school and high school mountain bikers from West, Verona and other area high schools added to the trophy collection, finishing third at the state meet in October.

But it’s not the trophies and success that drive the 37-year-old coach and his athletes.

McGarry said his goal as a coach is to make his team one where anyone from sixth grade through high school can participate, have fun and compete.

“My goal all the time with the team is to promote these values, strong body (and) character, through cycling (and) being inclusive,” he said. “It’s co-ed. All skill levels can be involved.”

McGarry has been mountain biking for much of his life and has coached the sport since Wisconsin started a high school league about five years ago. He also teaches at West High School.

He said he hopes his athletes become lifelong cyclists because of being on the team.

“The thing about like mountain biking as a sport is it doesn’t have to end when high school’s done,” McGarry said. “Cycling you can do ... as long as you can ride a bike.”

How does mountain biking lend itself to being more inclusive and helping you as a coach instill these values that you just mentioned?

For me, the thing that’s awesome about it is that no one sits on the bench ... I coached football ... and only 11 people can be on the field at a time. I think ... the real struggle for some of the kids is that they worked really hard all season. They’re working hard in practice, they’re doing stuff but only 11 people get to be on the field at a time. With mountain biking, if you want to race, everybody gets to race and they all contribute to the team ... the races are fun but they don’t have to be everybody’s end goal. Just getting better at cycling and having fun and riding bikes with your friends in the woods can also be the goal.

Is it something in the last few years that’s become more popular?

I think it’s becoming a lot more popular, state- and nationwide, because of what NICA — the National Interscholastic Cycling Association — is doing. They’re creating a groundwork and there’s an avenue to then compete and have coaches ... We started with eight in that first year and the first year of the league I think there was maybe 200 people total statewide, and at the end of this year, we’re at ... over 950 athletes ... We started, I think, in the first year with maybe 16 teams as a league and now we have 58 teams. I think having that structure of coaching and making it a middle and high school sport has really helped ... So I think mountain biking as a whole is in a really good spot right now.

You mentioned that Dane County has good trails and obviously we’re not Colorado and have these huge mountains ... But elsewhere in the state, how is the trail system?

Wisconsin has great mountain biking trails ... When people think about mountain biking, sometimes they think ... it can only happen in the mountains.

How did you get involved in the sport?

Cycling has been one of those things that’s been a consistent source of joy for me. Other things would kind of come in and out and bikes have always been there. I got my first mountain bike maybe when I was in middle school when mountain biking was really kind of like taking off and I just fell in love with riding bikes in the dirt.

Why did you get into coaching in the first place?

I think sports is really important. I don’t know if I would have, like, done as well in high school if I didn’t have sports ... I think what kept me going is, I knew I would end each day with practice. I played four sports, I played football, basketball, baseball, and track ... So I think what brought me to coaching is that ... it’s a way to have a positive impact on kids and they also have a really positive impact on me ... I like having that really positive interaction with high school age students at the end of the day ... I really get to set the tone completely when I’m coaching, and my goal always is to be really positive and to make it about growth and progression rather than focusing on negatives. It’s about really being positive, making it fun everyday.

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