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Ride and Learn: Ripon College
 
By Imelda March
Date: 4/5/2011
Ride and Learn: Ripon College
 
We continue to explore collegiate cycling programs across the U.S. and this time we connect with Ripon College located in the State of Wisconsin.

Ripon College is a four-year, private, residential, liberal arts and sciences college located in Ripon, Wisconsin, a city of 7,500. Its 1,057 undergraduates represent 33 states and 14 countries. Ripon College is located within close proximity to Milwaukee and Madison.

The college is considered a residential college where nine of 10 students live on campus and participate in more than 70 campus organizations, 23 NCAA Division III sports and 14 intramural sports. The 250-acre campus has 26 buildings, several on the National Register of Historic Places.

Coach Damm holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is an avid mountain biker. Visit Coach Ric Damm Bio to learn more about him. Following is an inside perspective on the Ripon College Red Hawks Cycling team collegiate program as described by Coach Damm.

Ripon College Red Hawks Cycling team competes in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference (MWCCC), a recognized conference within the USA Cycling Collegiate organization. The Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference is one of 11 collegiate conferences around the U.S.

DP: When did your cycling program begin? What was the idea behind creating a cycling program?

Coach Damm: The program was announced in the fall of 2007. We began our first season of mountain bike collegiate cycling competition the following fall with six student-athletes.

Our athletic director approached me in 2006 to get my input on the idea and to see if I would be interested in serving as coach. It was his belief, and I conferred, that with such a program Ripon would be able to attract a new group of students that may otherwise not consider our school. The addition of cycling would also provide another opportunity for women to participate in the school’s athletic program.

So the impetus was two-fold, to boost enrollment and provide more athletic opportunity for women.

Renee DeBruin, a junior chemistry major from Appleton, Wisconsin, tackles a rock garden in the cross country race at the 2010 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships at NorthStar Report in California. (Photo credit: Thomas D. Compton)

DP: Does your cycling program compete in all disciplines? What is your specialty?

Coach Damm: To date, our sole focus has been mountain bike competition. Given our location in the Midwest, we’ve been primarily a cross-country team. We do, however, have en exceptional gravity rider who should make a serious run at the omnium podium at theUSA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships this fall. We would like to continue to grow our team by adding more talented downhill, dual-slalom and four-cross riders to make us a more complete mountain bike team.

Then, once we’ve proven to be consistently competitive on the mountain bike collegiate cycling front with consistent growth in terms of team size and talent; our next goal is to expand into cyclocross, road and possibly track. My vision is for a complete cycling program at Ripon where we are able to field competitive teams in all of the collegiate disciplines.

Cyclocross is a natural progression, and we’re likely to have a few riders compete in that arena this fall. We may even host a ‘cross race on campus with the goal of having some representation at USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin on January 4-8, 2012.

We also have a couple of students with track racing experience, so we will attempt to qualify them for the national championships as well.

Finally, we have the interest in joining the fray on the roads in the spring. Fielding a full-fledged collegiate road team, for us, is simply a matter of convincing the college to fund it. As long as we can continue to attract new riders and build our current team, it should only be a matter of time before the college realizes the return on the investment and is willing to expand our offerings.

DP: Who is an ideal candidate for your academic and cycling program? (do you prefer a pure cyclists or are students from other sports welcomed and may be considered ‘walk-ons?’)

Coach Damm: I believe the ideal candidate for Ripon is a student whose primary focus is on their education. While we offer our students a great opportunity to train and compete, our cycling program is secondary to our academic program. A young man or woman with aspirations of becoming a pro cyclist will be better served by any number of other programs out there. But a student who wants a first-rate, liberal arts education and on top of that an ability and the support to continue racing at a high level will find that at Ripon. We look for students who can give 100 percent to both their studies and to their team.

At Ripon, a student’s experience isn’t fundamentally about the “bike,” it is about “life.” The bike experience they receive here is a double layer of exceptionally sweet icing on the cake.

DP: Does Ripon College offer collegiate cycling scholarships?

Coach Damm: Ripon College does not offer cycling scholarships. The reason goes back to our focus on the educational component. As an NCAA Division III college, Ripon does not offer athletic scholarships for any of our 20 NCAA sanctioned sports programs. While cycling is not governed by the NCAA and therefore there is no sanctioned restriction against offering specific cycling scholarships, we choose not to offer such because to do so would be divergent to our academic mission.

The 2010 Ripon College Red Hawks Cycling budget was roughly $30,000.

That said, Ripon College is dedicated to making a private education affordable to all students regardless of their economic background. Thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends, Ripon is able to offer a wide variety of academic and merit-based scholarships to our students. We make sure that every student that meets the academic qualifications to attend Ripon receives the financial assistance necessary to obtain his or her degree.

DP: If so, what are the cycling scholarship distribution levels? What is the average scholarship value? What is the minimum GPA a student must meet to be in the program? How many of them tend to maintain a higher than minimum GPA?

Coach Damm: There is no official minimum GPA for participation in athletics or any other co-curricular or extra-curricular activity at Ripon College. Poor academic performance, of course, can lead to academic probation and possibly expulsion. As long as a student meets the college’s general academic requirements and is enrolled as a full-time student, he or she is eligible for participation.

I was quite proud to learn that for the fall 2010 semester, the cycling team had the highest grade earned average of any athletic team at Ripon College with a 3.27 average. Three team members were named to the Dean’s List (minimum 3.40 GPA).

Eric Smith, a sophomore environmental studies major from Charlottesville, Virginia, during a qualifying run in the four cross event at the 2010 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships at NorthStar Report in California. (Photo credit: Thomas D. Compton)

DP: Is equipment provided to the athletes or are they expected to contribute to the costs of purchasing their own equipment? (i.e. bikes, tires, rollers, uniforms, racing shoes, helmets, etc)

Coach Damm: The college does provide each student with two jerseys and two pairs of shorts (choice of bib or regular). All other equipment is the responsibility of the individual. I do make every effort to secure team sponsorships and discounts with industry providers and the local bike shops so that my athletes can acquire the items they need at a reduced cost. We’ve been very successful in acquiring generous support.

In addition, Ripon College does cover all riders collegiate license fee and all race entry fees, as well as travel and lodging costs. Each rider is also provided a meal stipend for race trips.

DP: Typically, a B.A. /B.S. take about four years to complete? However, do all your athletes finish their degrees on time? Or is the average more like five years as they enjoy their environments and student life?

Coach Damm: Ripon College is committed to helping our students complete their undergraduate degree in four years. Due to our size, our students are all but guaranteed to get into the classes they need to meet their requirements and graduate on time. Many of our students, including those on the cycling team, will complete a double major (and a triple major is not unheard of) within the four-year span.

DP: Overall, what is your cycling program graduation rate?

Coach Damm: To date, it is 100%, but because we are such a new program we haven’t had any student-athletes who joined the team as freshmen complete their studies yet. The first freshmen recruits joined the team in fall 2009 and are sophomores now. In fall 2008 we had three seniors who graduated in spring 2009. I will have one student who joined the team in fall 2009 as a junior who is on track to graduate this spring.

DP: Do you actively recruit? If so, is there a part of the country or the world where Ripon College focuses more of your recruitment efforts?

Coach Damm: I do actively recruit. I would have to say that because we have such strong race series (mountain bike, cyclocross, track and road) in Wisconsin, that I do focus quite a bit on our local riders. The strong cycling tradition in Wisconsin, and the fact that many of our Wisconsin riders were joining cycling programs at colleges and universities outside the state, was two of the key factors that led to the establishment of our program. I feel we stand a better chance at recruiting students from the Midwest, because they are familiar with the style of riding here and feel at home here.

Still, we currently have riders from Colorado and Virginia, and I know that to build a varied team and a team that will be successful on the National stage, we need to attract riders from across the country and the world. We will seek out and accept talented riders from anywhere. As our program grows, becomes more successful and word spreads, we are optimistic that those riders will begin to seek us out. In fact, they already are, but because of our relative newness, we are still an unknown commodity at the National level. That will change with time and continued success.

DP: What differentiates your cycling program from the others?

Coach Damm: Referencing what I stated earlier: Ripon College is about the “life experience” as much as it is the “bike experience.” While the bike experience is certainly a large part of what we offer on the team and at the school as well, the members of our cycling team are much more than cyclists. They are musicians. They are artists. They are radio show hosts. They are aspiring chemists and environmental biologists, businessmen and teachers.

Each student on our cycling team is so uniquely individual. They all share a passion for cycling, but cycling is only a part of who they are as people. I think it is Ripon College’s liberal arts approach and it’s dedication to developing the whole person (physically, mentally, spiritually) that attracts these unique individuals and allows them to thrive here.

Ultimately, I believe it is this emphasis on academics that separates our program from many others. Cycling is not the end-all, be-all that draws a student to Ripon. It is simply a part of the whole package; a cog in the wheel that prepares our students for a productive and healthy life.

TEAM ACCOLADES

♦ Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference (MWCCC) Division II Mountain Bike Team Champions; 2009 and 2010

♦ Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference (MWCCC) Division II Mountain Bike Individual Omnium Champions; Tiffany Seering, 2009; Renee DeBruin, 2010; Eric Smith, 2009 and 2010

RIPON COLLEGE on SUSTAINABILITY

For three years, Ripon College have given free bicycles to incoming freshmen who pledge not to bring a car to campus as part of the Ripon Velorution Project. They have been entry level mountain bikes from Trek and Cannondale. Ripon Velorution Project is a strong and public statement of the College’s commitment to a healthier and greener community.

♦ David Joyce, the president of the college is an avid mountain biker who plans vacations around bike trips and who races regularly. It is not unusual for President Joyce to join the team on a training ride or to join them for lunch or dinner in the commons.

Ripon College is in the process of working with the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Trail Solutions team to build a mountain bike trail on campus. The College competed for and received a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Everything grant last August to build the trail.

Visit Ripon College Red Hawks Cycling to learn more about their collegiate cycling program.

We also invite you to follow at Ripon College on Twitter and Ripon College Red Hawks Cycling Team on Facebook.

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About the author: Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling issues and general peloton ramblings. Imelda is an experienced racer who also holds an MBA and is a marketing strategy expert.


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