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BMX becomes a family affair on Cape Cod

June 7, 2016

SANDWICH, Mass. (AP) — When Ian Martone found his father’s trophies as a 5-year-old, he immediately wanted to try the sport that won Peter Martone so much shiny hardware.

In the process, Ian, now 11, got his father, Peter, 42, back on track and his mother, Essie, 37, in on the fun, too. Now the Martone family of Bellingham is among the 150 members of Cape Cod BMX, which stands for bicycle motocross.

Each Tuesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m., families like the Martones gather at the track on Joint Base Cape Cod for practice sessions. Then on Saturdays, with registration between 5 and 6:30 p.m., they’re back at the mostly dirt track for that week’s races.

“It’s a sport that a family can do together. We have our own classes and when it comes race time, we break off into our own groups,” Essie Martone said. “It’s a lot of camaraderie. It’s become a whole extended family for us. That’s the part I love the most. Being on the track, it’s the fastest 35 to 40 seconds of your life. It’s exhilarating and it’s great exercise. The people are truly supportive of one another, people don’t talk each other down and, from my end, everyone wants you to do well.”

For the Butland family of Sandwich, participation spans the generations.

Katie Butland first got involved when her nephews raced, and then her daughter, Lacey, now 12, wanted to give it a whirl. She’s recently been joined on the track by Butland’s grandson, Chance Andre, who is getting his start at age 2 on a balance bike.

“It’s a boost of confidence for the kids,” Butland said. But beyond that, it’s about being part of a group. “It’s a lot of friends, hanging out, enjoying each others’ company,” said Butland, who has become an active volunteer registering racers at weekly events.

Talk to enough BMXers and the words family and friendship keep coming up.

Tammy Gibbs, track operator for Cape Cod BMX, first got involved with her son Brian Thierwechter. Brian is now 17, still racing, and recently represented the United States at the World Cup Championships in Colombia.

“We’ve met great families and developed lasting friendships,” Gibbs said. “We love the people and we love the sport. It’s a different type of sport because it’s for everyone.”

Cape Cod BMX makes that point right in its logo, which includes the line, “No one sits on the bench.”

There are weekly racers who range in age from 2 to 61 and everywhere in between, Gibbs said. Racers are split off into groups depending on their ages and abilities. Some of the 370 tracks across the country have riders who are in their 80s, she said.

Practice sessions are $5, race day is $10 and a BMX USA membership, which is required, is $60 a year. Pro CJ Fisher, who has been racing at the Cape Cod track since he was 5, gives clinics. Bikes range from the inexpensive ones Wal-Mart has to offer to $5,000 custom rides. The only other required gear is a helmet, long-sleeved shirt and long pants.

First launched in Dennis 38 years ago, Cape Cod BMX found a home on the Cape’s 22,000-acre military installation 30 years ago. It’s been a great relationship, Gibbs said, but in the last couple of years a crackdown in security has made it more difficult for families to get on base, chopping membership in half.

“We have no visibility,” Gibbs said. “You don’t drive by and see Cape Cod BMX.”

At one point, families needed to undergo background checks and get photo identifications issued by the base, a complicated system that left some on the sidelines. That has eased recently and participants can get on base with one-day passes, she said.

That initial security shift a year ago prompted Gibbs to begin looking at possible locations in her hometown that might provide easier access for families. A year ago, she went to Sandwich town leaders and asked to meet with the Board of Selectmen. Instead, individual leaders met with her behind closed doors. Initially, there was excitement about the idea of using land at the town-owned Sandwich Hollows Golf Course for a new track, Gibbs said, but after nearly a year of stringing her along, the town suddenly pulled the plug on the idea.

Gibbs had requested to rent Sandwich Town Hall in April and was summonsed to a meeting instead.

“It was a shutdown meeting from the get-go. I couldn’t believe it,” Gibbs said.

Frank Pannorfi, who was chairman of the Board of Selectmen at the time, said BMX and golf don’t mix.

“We run a business up there. The times they do their operations are not conducive,” Pannorfi said. “She doesn’t like that we said no to the golf course. We’re not going to jeopardize our business for BMX.”

The area being looked at, a former driving range, has been set aside on conceptual plans as the location for a dog park and bandstand — both things that would generate noise, Gibbs said.

“I’m just disappointed because I never presented it to the public. I was never given that opportunity,” she said. There was support on a social media site just before town meeting and the town elections, but the post got taken down, Gibbs’ mother became ill, and any momentum toward finding a compromise was gone.

“I wasn’t trying to be spiteful. I wasn’t trying to push their buttons. I want to work together,” Gibbs said. “I was born here. I was raised here. And if I didn’t think this was good for Sandwich, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Though she is disappointed she couldn’t work out an arrangement with the town, she is hopeful other land might become available that would allow the track to move off-base — the program needs about 8 to 9 acres — and attract more participants. In the meantime, she praised Town Manager George “Bud” Dunham for helping her meet with leaders at Joint Base Cape Cod.

Dunham even reached out to other town managers to see if there was land available in other Upper Cape towns, he said.

“We’re just going to plug forward at base. We’re happy ... We have a pretty good thing there,” Gibbs said. “So until we find the right area, we’re not going to just jump.”

Gibbs still runs in to people who misunderstand BMX, thinking it has to do with motorcycles. It’s kids and adults riding 20-inch and 24-inch bikes, powered by pedals, around a mostly dirt track. No engines and very little noise.

“We’re not bad people,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to give a kid the opportunity to do something else besides soccer and football? Those aren’t for everybody.”


Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com

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