SIERRA VISTA — They may only have 12 racers, but the Veritas Mountain Bike Team is ranked in the top 10 in its division.
Veritas Christian Community School’s mountain bike team, now in its third year, placed fifth out of 40 teams the first year they joined the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League and were again in the top 10 last year.
“Our team is co-ed, with four girls and eight guys,” said Veritas Principal Jason Tinney, who is one of the coaches. In addition, his son Cameron races with the team. “We’re one of the smallest schools in the state, but very competitive.”
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the team and its seven coaches load their bikes and equipment into pickup trucks and head to the Huachuca Mountains for practice.
“Today, we’re going to Wren Arena on Fort Huachuca, but we also ride in Carr, Brown and Miller canyons,” said Cameron Tinney on Tuesday. “We have a local race that starts at Wren Arena the first weekend in October, so we like practicing there.”
Head coach Shane Stilwell started the team three years ago when his daughter, Angelina, expressed an interest in racing for her school when she was in ninth grade.
“Mountain bike racing is a family sport with us,” he said. “Angelina has been racing mountain bikes since she was 6 years old, and wanted to race with the team. We started out with two junior high and five high school racers.”
Despite its rigorous training programs, mountain bike racing is growing in popularity as a team sport in high schools across the state, Stilwell said.
The Veritas team practices nine hours a week, spread over Tuesday and Thursday afternoons after school and Saturday mornings.
“These kids dig to the depths of their souls to do this,” Jason Tinney said. “We start training in June and train through the heat of the summer.”
The schools race in one of two divisions, based on the size of the school and the number of student-athletes on the team.
Because of its size, Buena High School — which also boasts a very competitive mountain bike racing program — falls in Division 1, while smaller schools race in Division 2.
“We have a lot of fun doing this,” said Natalia Souza, a Veritas sophomore. “I love going out into the mountains for the practices and competitions. I’m glad Veritas has a team.”