In just four years, the New England High School Cycling Association has literally outgrown the state parks at which it races.
Thomas McLaughlin of Westerly is the top varsity boys cyclist on the NEHSCA local entry: the Burlingame Badgers. The Westerly 12th-grader considered it a victory in the circuit's humble beginnings a couple of years back when he found a high school competitor to race against.
"In some races, he'd be the only cyclist," said Michael McLaughlin, his father and coach. "That changed in a hurry."
During the 2019 spring season that wrapped up last week, the regional league drew 700 racers from fifth grade through high school at the league's last race day in Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Mass. The overflow of racers, parents, grandparents and fans caused a capacity parking situation at the state park akin to a food festival or musical concert.
The local youths, ages 10 to 18, pedal mountain bikes along rugged trail circuits that measure about 4 miles for high schoolers, who do 3½ laps, and two laps of 4 miles for the youngest competitors.
"The interest in cycling is amazing now," McLaughlin said. "Not all kids are into ball sports and are looking for something else to do. Racing mountain bikes up and down forest trails is a combination of NASCAR and marathon running. It takes a lot of cardiovascular endurance and is very exciting for the cyclists and spectators. These courses are rugged trails that few would think would be suited for cycling."
YouTube videos of the cycling league show trails lined with spectators. The races typically start in grassy areas and stroll along hiking trails adorned with rocks and logs.
The NEHSCA league, which started in April, is comprised of 31 New England teams. The Badgers had 22 racers hailing from Westerly, Pawcatuck, Stonington, North Stonington, Mystic, Hope Valley and Charlestown. They finished tied for first place in the 6 race series with the Con Val Chain Gang from Massachusetts.
Racers earn points by their finishing place in each race and their series rankings are based on their best five of the six races.
The season runs from mid-April though mid-June on courses in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
McLaughlin said the local racing squad's organization considered joining an established national cycling organization that was seeking a New England entry. But after considering a variety of factors such as cost, the local cyclists went to the regional route. Final season standings for the Badgers' high school competitors were as follows:
Ninth grade boys: Jack Marcotte of Charlestown (6th), Miller Marcille of Hope Valley (15th), Sean vonHousen of Westerly (20th) and Alex Hill of Westerly (29th).
10th grade boys: Orla Peck of Bradford (3rd), Owen McLaughlin of Westerly (4th), Marcus Orr of Westerly (8th). 10th grade girls: Orla Peck of Bradford (3rd).
JV boys: Michael Carroll of North Stonington (7th), Lucas Huesman of Stonington (25th).
Varsity girls: Caitrin Huysman of Pawcatuck (1st). Varsity boys: Thomas McLaughlin of Westerly (2nd), Brendan Peck of Bradford (5th).
Sixth grade girls: Eilis McLaughlin of Westerly (2nd). Sixth grade boys: Gus Burke of Mystic (25th), Nolan Nanson of Pawcatuck (39th).
Seventh grade girls: Erin vonHousen of Westerly (1st), Megan Marcille of Hope Valley (5th). Seventh grade boys: Jesse Brunelle of Stonington (13th).
Eighth grade girls: Regan Tremblay of Charlestown (7th), Eighth grade boys: Oscar McLaughlin of Westerly (35th), Gus Kellog of Westerly (45th) and Evan Roberts of Charlestown (48th).
Huysman, a Pawcatuck resident who attends the Marine Science Magnet School in Groton, and Huesman, of Stonington High, also made their marks on the national level recently.
Huysman, racing in the girls 17-18 division, was eighth in the criterium at the USA Cycling Amateur Road Race National Championships in Hagerstown, Md., last weekend. She was also 18th in the road race. Huesman, in the boys 15-16 division, finished 15th in the time trial, 36th in the road race and 11th in the criterium.