Historically, crew and mountain biking have had primarily white demographics. This issue remains prevalent amongst both teams at Berkeley High School. “It’s definitely a rich, white sport,” said Ella McGlone, a BHS sophomore on the varsity women’s crew team.
Senior Miguel Huhndorf-Lima is one of the relatively few students of color on the BHS mountain biking team. “I’ve definitely felt alienation and isolation on the team,” he said. “I’m not necessarily involved in the social aspect as much as other people simply because the people there, I feel I can’t relate to (them) a lot of the time.”
For crew and mountain biking, a large part of the lack of diversity that hurts both teams is the continued perception of the sports as only having rich and white members. The perception is due to the high financial costs of both sports, which can deter interested athletes from joining. These perceptions don’t come out of nowhere, with data from USRowing demonstrating that only 13.75 percent of their registered rowers are people of color.
“There’s definitely some stereotype about (crew) that’s almost completely false, and so it really paints that image, not in a bad way, but in a way that would be really unappealing to people,” said McGlone. “If any low income minority communities know about us and that’s the only image they know about us, they’re not interested.”
Due to the lack of popularity and knowledge about rowing, the stereotypes around it being a “rich white sport” tend to stick more easily.
Huhndorf-Lima spoke on the impact that the demographics of the sports can have on interested athletes.“It’s definitely an intimidating thing. I can very well understand why a lot of people might want to stay away from teams like the crew team and the mountain biking team, simply because of who’s involved with it,” he said. “And then, especially within the group itself, obviously, you’ll see cliques and you see, like, who’s left out of these things, the impacts are very real. You can very well see them.”
The lack of diversity within crew and mountain biking can also be attributed to the financial cost. BHS’s athletes on crew pay dues worth $225 per month (for 9 months) without financial assistance. For mountain biking, dues are still fairly high, with athletes paying $650 per season, on top of the price of buying a bike, which can be around $1,000 for a new bike. The BHS mountain biking team receives no funding from the school and is accordingly completely volunteer-run. In 2016, the team started formally loaning bikes to those who couldn’t afford one.
Nick Hoeper-Tomich, the head coach of the mountain biking team, described the effect of the loaner bikes as removing a barrier to entry that had existed beforehand. He said that one of their long term goals is to transfer from being primarily funded by dues to being funded by grants, which could help promote socioeconomic diversity within the team by nearly eliminating the need for dues.
Looking forward, Marie Jones, the women’s crew varsity coach, expects diversity within the sport to change gradually. “There’s lots of efforts out there now to help introduce the sport to different populations,” she said. “And it’s happening. It’s just happening slowly. The more information that can get out there, the more people can see the sport and what it’s about.”
The BHS mountain biking team, in addition to providing financial aid and loaner bikes, promotes diversity in other ways, by first looking at the representation provided in their coaches and volunteers. “I’m a big proponent of if you can see somebody who looks like you, leading something, doing something cool, you’re gonna feel like you belong,” said Hoeper-Tomich. “That’s what we’re trying to create, is an environment where everyone feels like they see somebody doing the thing that they want to do and they feel that sense of belonging.” He said that when they were trying to promote gender diversity within the team, one of the things that had the biggest impact was hiring female coaches, and said that he hoped to recreate that when it comes to racial diversity as well.
The team also has a committee titled the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which meets monthly to promote diversity within the sport and address and overcome obstacles regarding it, according to Huhndorf-Lima, who’s a part of the committee. “We’re really trying to make changes even though they may be on a smaller scale,” said Huhndorf-Lima. “We’ve raised money for scholarships, and we’ve raised money for loaner bikes to try and get a wider range of demographics on the team, especially with LGBTQ+ plus riders, female identifying riders, and then riders of color,” he said.
“That is a big part of what my goals are with the team is in terms of changing the dynamics around the sport of mountain biking,” said Hoeper-Tomich. “All that is to attract people who aren’t necessarily looking like me. Because I look like the typical mountain biker. I understand that and I also want to make sure that when my daughter is in high school, I want a typical mountain biker to be much more diverse.”