Montana ranks as the state with the most female NICA student athletes. This is the celebratory photo. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

A big deal on a national level

Montana beats all other states in the nation for NICA female athlete participation

Lone Peak Composite Team (LPCT) parents and supporters travel through the bitter cold on the slick roads of the canyon en route to Copper City Trails at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6. Upon arrival, campers and tents housing competitors and families are scattered where the parking area meets the tall grass overlooking sprawling vistas. Jetboils are rolling for coffee where Big Sky families have established the LPCT home base, John Seelye has brought massive cinnamon rolls to share and parents are giving their kids pep talks for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) race. 

There is excitement as everyone makes way to the starting gate. Riders seemed to dance in the cool morning air, trying to keep their muscles loose for competition. One boy throws the chain on his bike right at the gate and –delayed – it is fixed so he is back to the race, with cheering fans yelling that he still has time to catch up. The chain slips again, 100 feet later and he sadly removes himself from the competition with support voiced by announcers and observers. 

Lone Peak Composite Team’s goal of creating a sense of community and team atmosphere with an often solo sport is apparent throughout the day. The strong sense of community found within the entire association is evident. 

LPCT coach John Flach noted later that it was the first race LPCT did not have at least one first place finish. Competition is becoming fierce, but the culture of competitiveness tempered with kindness continues. 

Sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents and friends of student athletes weave their way through sage brush to get an up-close perspective of the competition and to cheer their athletes on with cowbells and glad shouts of encouragement. In many cases, parents are sharing their love for the sport with their children: an adventurous way to enjoy the outdoors either solo, with family or with a pack of friends. The day becomes progressively cooler, but warm beverages, words of inspiration and the thrill of competition amongst friends helps stave off the cold. 

A big deal on a national level 

“You’ve got to get yourself fired-up,” Hazel Buotte’s father tells her. “Only you can do it. This is your race.” 

“I know,” she replies. 

Buotte and the other female racers make up 29% of the LPCT racing team. With the national average hovering between 19-20%, Montana actually made it into the national spotlight with becoming the leader in female NICA racers – beating-out all other participating states – and in its inaugural year. As the girls gather for a pre-race photo Bozeman coach and coordinator of the national initiative within NICA, Girls Riding Together (GRiT), Kim Greene encourages them to move around. 

“Keep that blood flowing. Keep your bodies moving,” she says. “Whether you’re doing high knees or whatever, keep the blood flowing. It’s really important.” 

There is a push within NICA to have 35% female student athletes and 35% female coaches across all leagues in America by 2024, she explains. Montana achieved 30% female student athletes and 32% female coaches the first year, “which is unheard of” not to mention the fact that Montana also has the highest percentage of girls at races of any league in the country. 

“It’s huge. It’s very fun. We are catching so much traction it’s amazing,” she says, also noting that there were eight teams this year with additional four signed-on for next year. 

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