Top row: Todd Wells, Hal Miller, Scott Armstrong, Austin McInerny, Jeremy Call, Kade Brantington, Hannah Heydinger, Robert Parks, Mark LaPaglia, and Mike Perry. Bottom Row: Lucas Euser, Liam Ruff, Steve Messer, Nash Dory, Preston Bagley-Gurtner, Esmée DeBarssi, Zoë Mae Dunn, Kathy Parks, Robert Kertesz, Gary Fisher and Lauren Duensing. Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.


Outstanding participants in high school cycling leagues across the U.S. were honored at the 2015 National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) Awards, held at Clif Bar & Company Headquarters, in Emeryville, California, January 30, 2016.

NICA presented awards in ten categories to sixteen individuals and organizations considered to be the most outstanding student-athletes, dedicated coaches, and the most supportive volunteers and sponsors to have helped advance the high school mountain biking movement over the past year.  Experience the showcase event through photos taken by Karl Nielsen and a short recap video, to be posted soon.

Clif Bar Volunteer Service Award

The Clif Bar & Company Volunteer Service Award honors an exceptional volunteer with 3+ years of commitment whose dedication of time, expertise and enthusiasm goes above and beyond to make a difference in the organization.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Scott Armstrong, SoCal High School Cycling League

Volunteer service is an integral part of the success of our NICA leagues, and so we award two recipients in this category. Our first is Scott Armstrong. Scott has donated hundreds of hours to the SoCal league even though he has no children racing within it yet. He genuinely cares about youth cycling and cycling in general. He has been SoCal’s Chief Course Marshal since the 2011 season and has worked 28 full weekends of racing, usually from Saturday morning through Sunday night — all as a volunteer. Scott also provides important input into race operations outside of course marshaling and has helped train staff from other leagues who have made their way through SoCal. Scott is an integral part of what makes the SoCal program a success. A well-deserved congratulations to Scott!

Click here to view Scott’s acceptance speech and summary.


Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Rob Kertesz, Utah High School Cycling League

Rob is notable because he’s always there quietly making a difference for the Utah League. He’s been involved with the set-up, take-down and operations that make up each race day. Known as “Rover Rob,” his tireless service often goes unnoticed. For the 24 hours leading up to race day, he is helping set courses and assisting the race crew with whatever they need. On race day, he is the familiar face to many as a roving marshal. He encourages, he assists as needed, he consoles, he persuades riders to get back out on course, he does anything and everything he can to make the race go smoothly…for everyone. While Rob and his wife Sue have not had a child directly involved in the league as a rider, they heard about the league, got to know more about it, and had to be a part of it. Rob is a retired educator who loves being involved with the kids and with this league. At the end of race day, you will see “Rover Rob” quietly sneaking out of the Pit Zone with Sue. Another race down, another long day on the bike, another job well done. Please join me in celebrating Rob as he comes on up!


 Click here to view Rob’s acceptance speech and summary.

CamelBak Distinguished Alumni award

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes a student-athlete who carries on the spirit of high school cycling beyond their high school years.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Jeremy Call, SoCal High School Cycling League

I am honored to present the CamelBak Distinguished Alumni Award to Jeremy Call. Jeremy has been involved in the SoCal High School League for many years — first as a rider and team captain on his high school team and now as a coach with SIMI Composite. Not only did Jeremy quietly fight through personal health issues as a student-athlete to make it to Varsity, but along the way he also encouraged and supported many of his fellow student-athletes. He graduated high school in the Spring of 2014 and immediately began working with his team as a coach. He not only supports and trains the high school kids but also shares his experiences with the many middle school students on the team. He never misses an opportunity to help out and even supports and trains with other teams such as Calabasas and Newbury Park. Jeremy was a valuable coaching addition to the SoCal Rider Camp at Mammoth last summer. Whenever he is coaching, he makes sure that all riders are having fun while pushing themselves to be the best riders they can be. Congratulations to Jeremy!


Click here to view Jeremy’s acceptance speech and summary.

Primal Wear Race Production Partner Award

The Race Production Partner Award acknowledges an individual whose outstanding partnership role in race productions is key to the success of a leagues race event production.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Hal Miller, Larson-Miller Medical Waste Disposal Service, Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League

We are pleased to present the Primal Wear Race Production Partner Award to Hal Miller. Hal and his dad Mark played a pivotal role in the success of Idaho’s inaugural racing season. Hal has been a longtime advocate for increased bicycle opportunities in the state of Idaho. He has built trails, produced mountain bike races, operated cycling clubs and supported youth cycling for well over a decade. When Hal learned of the creation of a NICA league in his home state, he jumped at the opportunity to help establish the Idaho League. With his race production background as well as a teenage son currently racing bikes at the national level, Hal quickly become one of the most valuable contributors to Idaho’s early success. Hal’s company, Larson-Miller Medical Waste Disposal, donated the Idaho League’s Race Production Trailer as well as connected most of the Core Racing Staff with one another — which allowed the League’s races to go off flawlessly during its inaugural 2015 season.
Perhaps Hal’s most valuable contribution to Idaho’s inaugural season was his volunteer role as Race Announcer. Hal likes to talk — and talk he did. Hal rocked the microphone for all of the season’s races — calling the racing action, thanking our wonderful sponsors, and conducting fun and exciting post-race interviews with our student-athletes. Most recently, Larson-Miller threw down a huge challenge during the CLIF Family Foundation’s “Share the Ride” fundraising campaign. Hal challenged the Idaho League community to raise $14,000 — promising that Larson-Miller would close the gap to the League’s total fundraising goal of $20,000. Well, Idaho stepped up big time — and when the fundraising dust settled, the Idaho League raised over $25,000 to be used toward building a bigger, better and more inclusive-than-ever Idaho League for 2016 and beyond. Lets give it up for Hal Miller!


Click here to view Hal’s acceptance speech and summary.

Quality Bicycle Products Community Impact Award

The Community Impact Award honors an individual whose dedication to high school mountain biking has resulted in positive impacts on youth, the community and the organization.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Steve Messer, SoCal High School Cycling League

I am very honored to present the Quality Bicycle Products Community Impact Award to Steve Messer. Reading from the nomination submission for this award, I quote…”Steve does it all. He’s an inspiration. He’s indefatigable. He’s designed and built courses, mentored coaches and students, helped with administration, helped launch new teams, established partnerships between teams and IMBA chapters to do trail work, and more. This is just a sketch of his contributions. His commitment to the SoCal League is immense, and he still makes time for CORBA/IMBA advocacy leadership as well as general road bike advocacy. With 1000 Steves, mountain bike opportunities would be improved a thousand times over. Sadly, there’s only one of him.” It is with great pleasure that I present this award to the one and only Steve Messer!


Click here to view Steve Messer’s acceptance speech and summary.

NICA Legacy Award

The NICA Legacy Award honors an individual or organization for their tremendous philanthropic support of NICA and NICA Leagues.

John Burke

The NICA Legacy Award honors an individual or company for their tremendous philanthropic support of NICA and NICA leagues. Recipients of this award understand the importance of — and invest significant energies and resources to — empowering youth through sport. NICA would simply not exist without our past Legacy Award recipients Jim Easton, Gary Erickson, Mike Sinyard Quality Bicycle Products and SRAM. Today, we are thrilled to present John Burke, president of Trek Bicycle Corporation, the NICA Legacy Award in recognition of Trek’s steadfast support since NICA was founded. Mr. Burke joined Trek, which his father founded in 1984 and has been its Chief Executive Officer since 1997. He served as chairman of President George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, is a founding board member of People for Bikes but, unfortunately, is not able to be with us tonight, but we can watch him now.


Click here to view John’s acceptance speech and summary.

Easton Foundations League Founders Award

The Easton Foundations League Founders Award recognizes an individual’s commitment, enthusiasm and perseverance in launching a new NICA league.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Mike Perry, Director, Arizona High School Cycling League

It is my honor to present Mike Perry of the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League with the Easton Foundation’s League Founders Award. The Easton Foundations enabled NICA to grow outside of California and we are forever thankful for their belief in our vision of helping youth develop skills on and off the bike. Mike and his team of John Shumaker and Chris Stewart shared this vision and very quickly pushed hard to expand interscholastic cycling across Arizona. Under Mike’s strong business leadership, the Arizona League has grown quickly and in just 3 years, has evolved into a financially self-sustaining organization that is building a very strong community as evidenced by the number of Arizona League members receiving awards tonight. Mike is concerned about more than just Arizona and has joined the NICA board of directors to represent his fellow league directors and to lend his business acumen to help strengthen NICA. I am extremely thankful for his passion and commitment to excellence. Let’s give it up for Mike!


Click here to view Mike’s acceptance speech and summary.

GU Energy Extraordinary Courage Award

The Extraordinary Courage Award recognizes student-athletes who have persevered through challenging circumstances and overcome adversity to develop and excel as a model student-athlete.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Kade Brantington, Ridgway Composite, Colorado High School Cycling League

I am honored to present our first Gu Energy Extraordinary Courage Award to Kade Brantingham of the Ridgway Composite High School Mountain Bike Team out of the Colorado League. As you’ll see in a moment, Kade is 6’2″ and a solid 220 lbs., currently a star on the basketball team and a former star of his school’s football team. Kade made the difficult choice to quit football and race mountain bikes. And while he may have accomplished far more on the football field than out on the mountain bike race course, this was a choice made for the love of the sport of cycling. Sadly, Kade has been subjected to bullying and abuse from students, teachers and coaches for his choice not to continue football, ranging from simple verbal taunts to actual physical damage to his car. This sort of behavior from his community is deplorable, but Kade has continually shown the fortitude to stand by his choices. He has been proud to be a part of a regional team, Ridgway Composite, that consists of six tiny southwest communities spread over three counties in Colorado. The time necessary to make practices and continue to be a real leader on the team took great energy and commitment — but Kade stepped up. He has been described as one of the key student leaders to the young team and a truly good human being. He has displayed absolute courage in his choice to ride with Ridgway Composite in the face of constant pressure and ridicule in his small hometown. One cannot image what he goes through a daily basis in the hallways of his school, yet he stands up to those sorts of pressures and abuse for the love of riding bikes. This shows an incredible display of courage and character that provides inspiration to the other student-athletes on his team. Please join me in congratulating Kade!


Click here to view Kade’s acceptance speech and summary.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Esmée DeBarssi, San Domenico School, NorCal High School Cycling League

And now we’re pleased to present the second GU Energy Extraordinary Courage Award to Esmée DeBarssi of the San Domenico High School Mountain Bike Team out of the NorCal League. Unbeknownst to many, Esmée entered mountain bike racing in her freshman year suffering from an eating disorder. With the help of many supportive people in her life, she has been in recovery and is now working toward educating students and coaches in promoting a healthy body image and how to avoid eating disorders. Esmée has been a leader in her high school’s chapter of “The Body Positive,” an organization dedicated to the education and promotion of healthy body image among students. In December, Esmée and one of the founders of The Body Positive delivered a presentation to NorCal coaches on promoting healthy body image and avoiding eating disorders. Tragically, this past race season Esmée lost her best friend and former teammate, Emily “Ember” Brightwood in a car crash. Despite being devastated by Ember’s death, Esmée continued racing. She honored Ember’s memory by racing the NorCal Petaluma race last Spring on Ember’s race bike, as Ember’s parents and friends watched. Please join me as we honor Esmée’s courage and character this evening with the GU Energy Extraordinary Courage Award!


Click here to view Esmée acceptance speech and summary.

Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award

The Specialized Student Athlete Leadership Award honors student athletes who have demonstrated outstanding leadership, sportsmanship, academic performance and volunteerism in their team, school and community.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Preston Bagley-Gurtner, Moab Red Devil Mountain Biking,
Utah Interscholastic Cycling League

I am so pleased to be up here to present the first Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award this evening to Preston Bagley-Gurtner of the Utah Interscholastic Cycling League. Preston has a strong work ethic, both on and off the bike. His accomplishments as a mountain bike racer include two Utah State Championships as a freshman and sophomore, victories on the junior enduro race circuit, and his development into a team leader for the Moab Red Devil High School Mountain Bike Team in the Utah League. Beyond his successes as an individual racer, it’s Preston’s leadership skills that have stood out. He looks out for all of his teammates, encouraging and mentoring them. He genuinely cheers them on and applauds their efforts — all while maintaining a true sense of humility and modesty about his own accomplishments. Off the bike, Preston has maintained a 3.7 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious academic awards. He is musically talented, playing the saxophone and participating in marching band during the same season as mountain biking. He also plays the guitar and keyboards, is the lead singer in another band and composes music! Preston spends his spare time — is there any left? — volunteering with the National Honor Society as well as at bike events for elementary school-aged kids. These include setting up local kids with their first bikes and helmets, promoting trail riding and stewardship, and leading bike maintenance training sessions. As you can see, Preston is an all-around, well-rounded, hardworking young man — and one who is respectful, mature and humble beyond his years. I am thrilled to present him with this year’s Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award. Congratulations, Preston!

Click here to view Preston’s acceptance speech and summary.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Hannah Heydinger, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, Texas Interscholastic Mountain Bike League

I am pleased to present the second Specialized Student-Athlete Leadership Award to Hannah Heydinger, who rides for the St. Stephen’s High School Mountain Bike Team in the Texas League.

Hannah joined the St. Stephen’s founding team in her freshman year as the only female student-athlete. The boys asked her to help them because they couldn’t field a new school team without a female rider. Although she’d ridden her bike to school since 6th grade, she had never been mountain biking. She found that she loved it — and, much to her surprise, was very good at it, ending up first in state for freshman-sophomore girls. Hannah went on to recruit several other girls onto the team and became the team captain in her Junior year this past season. The Spartans, despite being a relatively small school and team, finished second in state last year. For her Girl Scout Gold Award — an achievement similar to the Boy Scout Eagle badge — Hannah took on the challenge of leading a large group of student volunteers in clearing brush to create clear line of sight for automobile drivers and posting signs for a crosswalk where a bike trail crosses the main drive into her school. During the project she learned of several near-accidents when mountain bikers, cross country runners, and dog walkers exited the brush to cross the road. To raise awareness, she also created a stop-action video message. Off the bike, Hannah is a National Merit Commended Scholar with a 3.6 GPA at her academically rigorous school. This year, Hannah will race Varsity again. She has said that her greatest joy is recruiting and helping younger riders and sharing her love of biking and team spirit. Please join me in congratulating Hannah!


Click here to view Hannah’s acceptance speech and summary.

SRAM Coach of the Year

The SRAM Coach of the Year Award acknowledges a head coach whose qualities as a leader and motivator embodies NICA’s mission to provide student-athletes with the coaching and camaraderie to help them achieve both competitive and non-competitive goals in a safe and enjoyable manner.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Mark LaPaglia, Buena High School, Arizona Interscholastic Cycling School Mountain Bike League

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the first SRAM Coach of the Year Award to Mark LaPaglia of the Arizona League’s Buena High School Mountain Bike Team. Mark has been described as a dedicated and inspirational coach whose character cannot be summarized adequately in words. Parents and student-athletes alike respect Mark because he holds his riders to much higher standards than just racing and results. While he led his team to the 2015 Arizona State Championship title, he focused on having one-on-ones with each of his riders, expecting and supporting their academic progress, and holding his student-athletes to a higher GPA than other the other high school sports. He’s known as a leader who loves his student-athletes as if they were his own children, and several nominations for his award referenced the team’s camaraderie and identity as a family. Buena’s student-athletes travel and camp as a team, and are led by Mark to believe that every person on the team matters — even family members who are ringing their cowbells on the sidelines. Team members are also contributing members of their community — participating in local cycling events to promote the sport and providing trail maintenance to improve local trails. In the words of one of his student-athletes, “He is an inspiration and has a manner of reaching kids that brings out the very best in all of us.” And from a parent…”Under Mark’s tutelage these students are becoming better people, not just better athletes!” A huge congratulations to Mark!


Click here to view Mark’s acceptance speech and summary.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Robert & Kathy Parks, Temescal Canyon High School,
SoCal Interscholastic Cycling League

I am honored and delighted to present a SRAM Coach of the Year award — for the first time in NICA history — to the duo husband-and-wife coach team of Kathy and Robert Parks of the SoCal League. Kathy and Robert individually and together inspire the student-athletes and parents of Temescal Canyon High School. As one student-athlete on the team said, “Not only does Mr. Parks lead our team, train us for the races, and show us support, but Mr. Parks is like a second father to all of the athletes on the Temescal Canyon team. He highly encourages us to do our best in everything we do. He shows each and everyone of us love and support in all that we do and encounter. He hasn’t just made a team at our school. He has made a family, and that is truly the most amazing gift anyone can give.” Another female student-athlete noted that Kathy herself had never ridden a mountain bike before the team got started. She said of Kathy, “Even though she was nervous herself she helped me. We learned everything together, and she was always there to confide in. She is a truly amazing coach.” Together, Kathy and Robert have brought the sport of mountain biking to Temescal Canyon High School and are obviously making a positive difference in the lives of their student-athletes. Please join me with a warm congratulations for Kathy and Robert!


Click here to view Robert and Kathy’s acceptance speech and summary.

Trek All-Star Student-Athlete Award

The All-Star Student Athlete Award recognizes student-athletes for their outstanding competitive achievements and potential for future success in competitive cycling.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Nash Dory, Buena High School, Arizona High School Cycling League

I am honored to present this evening’s first Trek All-Star Student-Athlete Award to Nash Dory of the Arizona League’s Buena High School team. Nash exemplifies the student-athlete principles upon which NICA was founded. He has worked incredibly hard to maintain his grades as well as hold down a job at a local bike shop — all the while pushing himself to earn the title of Arizona State Champion all three years he has raced in the league. He is humble when accepting accolades and graceful when giving them. He is sought after for his guidance and friendship from his entire team and competitors alike. Nash has a bright future ahead of him, and we won’t be surprised to see him in a future role continuing to coach and inspire the next generation of NICA riders. With that, please join me in congratulating Nash!


Click here to view Nash’s acceptance speech and summary.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Zoë Mae Dunn, Chino Valley High School, Arizona High School Cycling League

And now, it is my great pleasure to present the second Trek All-Star Student-Athlete Award to Zoë Dunn of the Chino Valley High School Mountain Bike Team. Zoë has been involved with the Arizona League since its inception in 2013. She started the first season as a sophomore and won the State Championship that year. Most importantly, she discovered her tribe and grew into not just a team leader but someone who brought together members of all teams on race day. This was no more apparent than when her tradition of podium hugs caught on not only with her group of competitors but even as the Varsity Boys gave hugs at the last race! Zoë has proudly represented NICA at her school and in the community, wearing her NICA gear and spreading the word through newspaper stories and social media. Academically, Zoë is one of the top students at her school, is the National Honors Society president and takes college courses while participating in numerous extracurricular activities and community service projects. She was elected captain of her mountain bike team all three seasons and has participated in several team 24-hour races, capping her accomplishments with a victory in the Under-23 division of the 24-Hour Solo Mountain Bike World Championship in 2015. Please join me in congratulating Zoë.


Click here to view Zoë’s acceptance speech and summary.

REI/International Mountain Bicycling Association Teen Trail Corps Award

The REI/IMBA Teen Trail Corps award is a new award this year that honors an indiviudal who has demonstrated respect, empathy and compassion towards other trail users by working both on and off the bike to build awareness and care for trails in their community. Presenting the award is IMBA’s Northern California Regional Director, Laurel Harkness.

Photo credit: Karl Nielsen.

Liam Ruff, Nevada Union Miners High School, Norcal High School Cycling League

We are honored to present this year’s REI-IMBA Teen Trail Corps Award to Liam Ruff, a student-athlete with the NorCal League. Liam is a leader on his Nevada Union High School Mountain Bike Team — not only representing the team on the podium, but also front and center with his trail advocacy work. Liam volunteered his time as an intern for his senior year working for Laurel and IMBA.


Click here to view Liam’s acceptance speech and summary.