Quick Spin with Rick Spittler, Incoming NICA President
How did you first find out about high school mountain biking?
I was introduced to high school mountain biking by my daughter, Elena Spittler in the fall of 2002. Her high school math teacher, Matt Fritzinger, had started the NorCal League and he encouraged her to join the Berkeley High Team. Elena joined the team and raced in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 race season, winning the 2005 Varsity Girls Championship. As a family we rode bikes on a recreational basis, however competitive mountain bike racing was completely new to us.
The experience of my daughter participating in the NorCal League was an overwhelmingly positive experience for my daughter as well as for the rest of the family.
How does cycling feature in your life: past, present and future?
As an infant in 1954, I was stricken with Polio. The virus caused paralysis in my left leg, leaving me with little muscle function in that leg. Consequently, walking has always been a difficult task for me. Early on as a child, I learned how to ride a bike and quickly the bicycle became my “legs”.
I continue to ride bicycles today. For my entire 35-year career I have commuted to work by bicycle. I run my errands riding a bike. I also cycle for recreation, both mountain biking and road biking. This past fall my wife and I took two months and traveled through France and Italy traveling by bike and trains.
Cycling is an activity that can accommodate people with a wide variety of physical needs and abilities. It is also an activity that can be enjoyed as one ages. As I age, and at some point no longer able to drive a car, I will be on a bike, whether two wheeled or three and again the bicycle will provide me with the freedom it did when I was a child.
Generally speaking, looking at the way they are managed, what is your range of experience with national sporting governing bodies?
NICA was formed to build High School Mountain Bike Leagues throughout the country, to support the Leagues and to act as the national governing body for high school mountain biking. By creating NICA from the ground up, we have the opportunity to create a national youth sports organization that is structurally organized to be responsive and supportive to the Chapter Leagues, individual teams and to the student athletes participating in our programs.
What ever we are discussing, it always goes back to “how is this helping the student athletes in our program?”
When developing the organizational structure for NICA, we intentionally are looking at what functions are more efficiently done at the national, regional and team level. For example NICA handles, creation and implementation of nationwide standards in coach training, event management, sponsorship and other fundraising work, external communications, risk management and insurance, a set of rules specially designed and developed for student athletes, and group purchases, making it easier and less costly for the individual leagues to run a race series. Every aspect of NICA, the Chapter Leagues and local teams are designed to support each other and leverage our resources.
Additionally, NICA has developed an organizational culture of heighten expectations and always working to create the best product and service. By staying focused on the Student Athlete and remaining true to our values, NICA can have a major impact on our student athletes as well as cycling.
What is it like working with Matt Fritzinger and the NICA staff?
I have had the pleasure of working with Matt over the past 10 years as an advisor to NorCal and now with NICA. Matt is an intelligent, engaging and inspiring leader that cares deeply for the health and well being of the young student athletes in our programs. This is evident almost every day when Matt asked this question, “How will this decision effect our Student Athletes?”
We are lucky to have the NICA staff that we have working on our goals. They are smart, innovative and energetic. They all love cycling and are great ambassadors for NICA, the Leagues and the sport of cycling.
NICA is one component of cycling development in the USA. What is the importance of NICA in this picture and where do you see it fitting in with the mix of say, IMBA, USA Cycling, organizations like those?
NICA’s focus is on youth. Period. Other national organizations may have a youth component to their programs, but youth is not their focus. At NICA it is ALL about the youth, our student athletes. As a national organization that focuses on youth, together with NICA’s goal of bringing high school mountain biking coast to coast by 2020, NICA can have a major impact on cycling.
As a national organization, NICA also will be building collaborations and partnerships with other national groups that have a shared interest. NICA can also help foster partnerships with regional and local organizations through the Chapter Leagues and local teams.
The whole concept of NICA is to work together with the Chapter Leagues, the local teams and the corresponding national, regional and local organizations, businesses, government agencies and schools.
What do you hope will happen to the relationship with school authorities as NICA grows?
As more and more schools participate in NICA, and as more and more school administrators see the benefit of their students participating in high school mountain biking, it is our hope that one day mountain biking will be as common in high schools as any of the other sports.
Why are so many big cycling companies coming in to sponsor NICA? Where does the money come from over the next 10 years and more?
The development of high school mountain biking on a national level is one of the most exciting things to happen in the cycling industry. As a result of the way we have structured NICA, high school mountain biking is an incredibly accessible way for many students to be introduced to the sport of cycling. After participating in high school mountain biking, we have seen our graduates go on to compete on their college teams, both mountain and road. Additionally, our student athletes are being introduced to a sport and activity that they can pursue for the rest of their lives. In short, it makes good business sense for the cycling industry to support NICA.
Additionally, the cycling industry is made of great people that love cycling. Better than anyone else, they know first hand the excitement, joy and thrill of riding and competing on a bike. These individuals share our enthusiasm and love for cycling and they are genuine in their desire to help us succeed.
NICA’s business plan is based on developing a diverse base of income streams. This includes, corporate sponsors - inside and outside of the cycling industry, program fees, individual donors and grants. Just as NICA’s organizational structure leverages the resources of the national office, regional leagues and the local teams, our fundraising strategy is developing the same efficiencies and collaborations. Marketing materials, a sophisticated donor database, sponsor packets etc, all can be produced at the national office. This saves the leagues' resources and can produce higher quality products than an individual league could afford.
We are creating an organizational structure that is based on collaboration, responsiveness, excellence and leveraging resources.
The cycling industry should feel proud of what we have accomplished together. We have started to lay the ground-work that will introduce the joy of cycling to thousands of youth and families each year.