A group of riders take off during Sunday’s MiSCA races in Rockford.

The West Michigan Coyotes mountain biking team was formed three years ago when Spring Lake middle school teacher Aaron Zuelke was approached by a local adult biking group about starting a youth team.

“A week later we had our first practice and all of a sudden we had like 20 kids show up,” Zuelke said. “It showed there was demand because we didn’t know. We were thinking ‘Is anyone even going to come,’ and of course I am a teacher at the middle school so I promoted it that way.”

This season is the third season that the Coyotes have been riding and their roster now has over 50 riders on it. The team is constantly recruiting during the season, so the number continues to grow each year.

“When we see a rider that’s unattached or an independent rider we say, ‘Hey, do you you need a team? We would love to have you.’” Zuelke said. “We want to provide support in a couple different ways. One way we do it is we have practice twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. That’s a big deal because these kids see that it’s a sport and there is a team aspect to it. The kind of community that comes together around these teams is always so humbling to me.”

The riders echoed the sentiment about riding with the team.

“There was posters up in my school and so I got a friend to do it with me. It’s more fun to ride with other people than riding by yourself,” Owen Tesch said.

“Being a part of the team and getting to meet new people and meeting people who have the same biking experience as you and be able to ride with them,” Maddie Whitmer said.

The Coyotes don’t have a space to practice locally because there is not a trail to use in Grand Haven or Spring Lake. The team primarily does their practicing at the Merrell Trail in Rockford and at the Cannonsburg Ski Area to do their riding. They carpool from the middle school. Although the team is primarily local, they accept riders from all over the area, with a healthy portion of riders from the Grand Rapids area. Zuelke is the team’s head coach, while Brian Miller helps.

The season is similar to that of most fall sports. The team begins practice in late June and ramps up their preparation in August as the season gets closer. The season consists of six races that start Aug. 25 and end on Oct. 13.

“The cool thing about our sport is that it’s not just kids, it’s kids and their parents. You’ve got kids riding along with their parents because we encourage parents to come to practice and ride with us.” Zuelke said.

Close to home

The Coyotes were in Rockford Sunday afternoon and won both the high school and middle school races. The race was the closest to home of their entire 6-race season.

In the competitions that the Coyotes compete in, the scoring reflects the finish of a race through the course, with varsity finishers scoring 120 points for a first-place finish. Each place is worth an extra 3 points, and the junior varsity race works similarly but starts at 100 points for the winner to avoid misplacing better riders.

The high school team scored a total of 465 while the second-place Brighton team scored 441. Anabel Miller scored 120 points in the varsity female race and Judah Gustafson won the varsity male race. Luke Zuelke scored 114 thanks to a third-place finish in the varsity male race and Addison Forrester picked up a fourth-place finish in the varsity female race, good for 111 points.

In the middle school race, the Coyotes won with 322 points over second-place Huron Valley United who scored 298. Haydon Frehr raced in the middle school advanced division and scored 85 points, while Frieda Kincaid races in the middle school advanced division and scored 82. Drake Marine scored 82 in the middle school advanced race and Leorah Roeber scored 73 in the middle school female to round out the teams’ scoring.

The team hit a season-high for the number of podium finishers they had in the Rockford race. Gustafson finished first in the boys varsity race and Miller finished first in the varsity girls race. Zuelke finished third in the boys race, Addison Forrester was fourth in the Varsity girls race and Maddie Whitmer finished second in the JV girls race. Frehr was the best racer for the team in the middle school division, he finished first in the boys advanced middle school division. Kincaid was second in advanced girls middle school, Drake Marine was second in boys advanced middle school, and Roeber was fifth in the girls advanced middle school.

The other podium finishers were: Owent Tesch, fourth in the boys middle school 8, Adam Polmenteer, third boys novice 10-12, Brevin Martin, fourth boys middle school 6 to 7, Marley Marine, fifth girls upper elementary, Mason Pomeroy, fifth boys novice 10-12 and Eli Zuelke finished fifth in the boys middle school 6-7. With one more race left in their season the West Michigan Coyotes lead the MISCA team race series with a total of 2,186 points on the season. The Coyotes have a chance to wrap up a series win Sunday at Bloomer Park in Rochester.

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