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Teacher peddles a middle school mountain biking club and the kids love it

Mike Newton started the club for his students in April 2022 and some of the students go mountain biking almost every week now.

Newton mountain biking (1)
Newton's, left, group consisted of 11 students at its largest. His wife, Chloe, not pictured, often joined him, as well as some parents, far right.
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CROSSLAKE, Minn. — There is a clear line connecting Crosslake Community School to mountain biking at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

Mike Newton started as the kindergarten-eighth grade music teacher in 2019 in Crosslake. He began mountain biking in 2020. In 2021, his students had heard of his riding adventures and wanted to hit the trails themselves.

So, in April 2022, Newton started a mountain biking club for his middle school students.

“I was gonna do it last year,” Newton said. “But I crashed my bike and didn’t do it.”

Newton’s students were eager to get riding, but Minnesota’s spring weather kept them off the trails for a little longer than planned. Once the trails opened, the new riders were ready to roll.

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“We started in late April and rode twice a week, every week until just a week ago,” Newton said. “There were 11 kids, which is way more than I thought. I thought I was gonna have four.”

With such a large group, logistics needed to be worked out.

“That’s a lot of kids to be riding in a line,” Newton said. “When someone wants to pass us, we have to get out of the way because they’re going to pass all of us, probably.”

It took a bit of time, but eventually Newton found a system.

“At first, me and the fast kids would go in front, and we’d be waiting for everyone else,” Newton said. “Until I made the two groups. That was kind of a game changer for us.”

Newton separated the students into a beginner group and an advanced group. He and the advanced students, who already had some mountain biking experience, rode the harder trails, while the beginner group, led by his wife, Chloe, stuck to the easier ones.

Newton mountain biking (3)
Mike Newton, right, and his wife Chloe, left.
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The two groups also allowed some kids to ride for longer, while others were OK just doing two trails.

Newton said some of the students go mountain biking almost every week now, when just a few months ago they had never done it.

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“I heard a lot of the kids really liked it,” Newton said. “I didn’t have any complaints about parents having to drive their kids or anything like that.”
The mountain biking club’s primary purpose was to introduce the kids to a fun new activity many of them had never tried before. Newton used a system of personal goals, set by each student, to allow them to grow at their own pace.

At first, me and the fast kids would go in front, and we’d be waiting for everyone else. Until I made the two groups. That was kind of a game changer for us.
Mike Newton

“People who start off on the easy trails want to complete a hard trail by the end of the year. Kids who started on the hard trails want to do a black diamond,” Newton said.

Everything went very smoothly, especially considering the number of middle schoolers that were riding.

“I only had one kid crash, and it was on the last day on the last trail on the last corner,” Newton said. “She fell and landed right on her face on a rock, and she was totally fine.”

Newton was impressed with how quickly his students picked up mountain biking, but he had to explain the process of learning skills like jumping.

Newton mountain biking (2)
A student rides their bike at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
Contributed

“You can’t just get on the bike and go jump it. You have to be able to bunny hop and all this other stuff. So we worked with that, which was good,” Newton said. “Kind of setting those little goals and letting the kids know like, if you can’t jump, don’t go and try and jump. If you don’t know the skills that are required to jump, you will crash, and you will get hurt, and it’ll be a bummer.”

With no bummers had, Newton plans to hold the club once a week when school starts again, as long as the weather allows. Then, the students will ride twice a week again after the snow melts and the trails open in the spring.

Newton doesn’t have any plans to travel to other mountain biking locations for the club. However, that doesn’t rule out an expansion of the club into mountain biking competition for students who are looking for more.

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“Cuyuna is like the crown gem of Minnesota mountain biking, and some people are figuring that out now, including myself,” Newton said. “I think that I might get one or two kids to try and compete, but I don’t really know the logistics. I have two kids that are really, really good. They’re just as good as I am. So, that’s something I might see if they’re interested in in the future.”

Newton mountain biking (4)
Two students ride their bikes toward their teacher, Mike Newton, for a cool picture. Newton says some of his students are as good at mountain biking as he is.
Contributed

While Newton liked seeing his students grow, he is eager to hit the trails on his own again.

“I actually loved it. It was fun,” Newton said. “I’m glad to be done with it because now when I go I can go there and do what I want to do; I don’t have to take all the easy trails.”

Megan Buffington, Echo Journal intern, may be reached at 218-855-5854 or megan.buffington@pineandlakes.com . She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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