The Dirt DestroyersMay 31, 2023 01:24PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
When he joined the Delaware Dirt Destroyers, Xaven Monsalud wanted to learn more about mountain biking. He also wanted to make friends who shared his interest in the sport.
“It’s been fantastic,” the Redding Middle eighth grader said of two seasons of racing and adventuring with the team. “It’s not only a biking team, but a family. We’ve developed close bonds. I recommend it. You need to experience it.”
On their website, https://dedirt.com, the Dirt Destroyers say that they “empower youth through mountain biking,” later on talking about “developing strong bodies, minds and characters.”
By making, repairing and improving trails and learning how to handle wild animals (essentially: don’t), members learn about becoming stewards of the land and its wildlife.
By taking classes, they learn about safety and maintenance for two-wheeled vehicles, which are critical lessons that they should apply later in life with four-wheeled vehicles.
And by listening to coaches, they learn about heeding voices of authority and following rules.
“X has matured,” said his father, Herb, who got him out racing on a bike when he was 4. “It’s his passion. For 1½ years, he hasn’t been playing video games.” For a while, father and on enjoyed riding together – until X got too good.
A first for the First State
The Dirt Destroyers were founded in 2019 as the first Delaware team in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Their home base is White Clay Creek State Park and the adjacent Middle Run Valley Natural Area, which together host Delaware’s most popular mountain biking trails, said Jim Martin, a freelance bike mechanic and a Dirt Destroyers coach.
Urban Promise in Wilmington – a nonprofit that espouses many of the same beliefs on how a sport can be more than a sport, under a “community in Christ” umbrella – fields another team, he said.
Martin, who lives in Milford, is forming a Southern Delaware team. This “composite” team will be named by members, and the trend is for boldness, judging by Pennsylvania teams: the Hellbenders in Southern Chester County, the Rattlers in York, the Hammers in Danville and the Delco Revolution.
The Delaware Interscholastic Cycling League also wants to create a team in central Delaware.
Youth in grades six-12 (public, private and homeschools) are eligible. There are no tryouts, and only basic riding skills are required. Details are are https://delawaremtb.org.
The costs and the calendar
The Dirt Destroyers website breaks down the costs of participation: $50 team fee, $55-$75 for the required team jersey, $220 for for season registration and $45-$100 for events registration.
Riders need their own mountain bike ($500-$600, Martin suggested) and a required to wear a helmet ($60) and closed-toe shoes. Gloves ($15-$20) and sunglasses are strongly recommended. Of course, riders are wearing their own clothing.
But since equity is another do-good element that’s part of the league, teams find a way to financially help “anybody who wants to ride but can’t afford it,” Martin said.
The season begins in July in August, with the Dirt Destroyers conducting two sessions a week on improving all sorts of skills. Coaches get training in things like first aid, CPR and child trafficking. All those skills are important for families to know “their children are safe under our watch,” he said.
In September and October, the season ends with competitive races and noncompetitive adventures. When the Dirt Destroyers began, they traveled to Pennsylvania parks, where swimming holes, camping and smores completed the weekends.
With Delaware ridership growing, the national association has explored Lums Pond and Fort du Pont for possible weekend events in the First State.
Giving back to the sport, and the trails
Martin said that he got involved as a coach because he wanted to “give back to the sport that has given me so much.” Here’s what he has been given and wants to give out: fitness, camaraderie, friendship and the joy of being outdoors.
Of course, many sports and clubs build young people’s bodies and minds while they have fun.
But mountain biking also involves creating, maintaining and improving where they play.
Molly Kaplan, the Dirt Destroyers’ captain for the last two years, was named a captain in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association’s Teen Trail Corps. The award came from four commitments – titled speak, serve, ride and respect – on biking, trails and the environment.
One effort, with the Delaware Trail Spinners, involved both fun stuff, such as building log-overs (piles of logs side by side, like cigarettes in a pack, that seriously challenge riders) and mundane stuff, like filling in trenches, creating ramps for bridges and rechanneling stormwater.
Kaplan graduates from Kennett High School this year and plans to join the mountain biking team at Middlebury College in Vermont, where she plans to study political science.
This summer, she might coach the Dirt Destroyers, a group that she appreciates for its small size and tight relationships. “It inspired me to try more things and be out there,” she said – even after she had a concussion early on. Leadership and other skills developed through the Dirt Destroyers “have improved me for the better.”
‘Something all of us can do’
“I remember when I was new on the team,” she wrote on the national association’s website. “My lack of skills and knowledge made me nervous. And being a girl on a male-dominated team was almost as intimidating as being new. Because of this, I always encourage new riders during drills and rides. I always make the effort to talk to everyone on the team and cheer everyone on during their races. I know how much this can mean to people and it makes our team closer.”
Dirt Destroyers coach Dan Fitzpatrick, a mechanical engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, appreciates the technology behind the racing: Riders wear tags so that their times can be electronically tracked.
He has been biking since high school. Buying a better bike in 2019 got him out a lot more.
And he got involved with the Dirt Destroyers when his son Rowan, a student at Shue-Medill, became friends with team member Max Oreper and got new bike for Christmas in 2021. “It gave him something to focus on, a steady activity, a good outdoor experience,” Fitzpatrick said.
He praised the Dirt Destroyers for being about not just biking, but also being about team building, socialization, fun games and patience. “It’s a huge range of skills.”
And maybe his 9-year-old son Asher will also join the team when he’s old enough. “It’s something all of us can do,” Fitzpatrick said.