The number of active cycling officials is dwindling. If it drops any further, the race calendar will have to shrink. Some races will cease to exist altogether. Are you willing to be part of the solution?
Could you, should you, take the USAC Officials exam?
There is an ecosystem to local cycling. Promoters (and their organizing collectives), God-bless them, work long, long hours, take incredible risks in securing permits, to give racers a safe, clearly-defined battlefield to compete on. They do this for little (sometimes even no) financial reward.
Timing companies, registrations services, and sponsors provide valuable services and support. Volunteers give their time and energy to help promoters make races possible. And the racers themselves! Oh, how we would all not exist without the racers.
Officials are just one part of the ecosystem, but vital. We are the mandatory, on-the-ground resource for the sanctioning body. That sanction ensures liability insurance is available to protect promoters and racers. It gives competitors rules under which the races happen and a path to greater and greater personal achievement.
We need new officials in Arizona (and, as I’m hearing from my colleagues, in many other active cycling communities across the country). Despite there being a good core of experienced, talented officials in my home region, there are only a couple of us who are active (take the regular, every-other-weekend local race assignments during crit and ‘cross seasons).
Local races need two officials, yet for two of the last three races, I have been the only person available. Working a race alone is not only the opposite of fun, it is unsustainable. We need backup to get the results right (as close to right as possible on the first posting), to keep the event on schedule, to be available to help riders with challenges, to manage accidents and incidents. And, maybe I speak only for myself here, we would also like the time and freedom to encourage and coach and promote the sport within the rider community we serve.
The rewards that come with sometimes long, stressful assignments
What can I say to you so you’d step up, take the exam, and become an official? Should I paint a dark picture of what happens if the sport has no officials (promoters would have to hire from out-of-state which would add travel and time costs that would simply bury smaller events)? Or should I spin officiating as some kind of pious and smugly rewarding pursuit?
Neither of those arguments do the role justice. The truth is that although the days can be long and tense, the work sometimes tedious and monotonous, officiating bike races…
- Is a way to give back to the sport, to be of service to the racers, the promoters, the sponsors, and everyone else involved in the sport. Cycling has been an important part of my adult life. It has given me a healthy and fit lifestyle. It has challenged me to compete. It has given me work and income. It brings me mental wellbeing. Cycling gives a lot. I officiate as a way to give back.
- Is a way to be part of the scene if racing is not your thing. I crashed badly in a crit in 2010 and did some physical and mental damage that means I don’t want to race crits anymore. But I wanted to be around racing. Officiating is a great way to be at every race, to see the action from the best position, and to immerse yourself in the race itself, all without the risks of actually racing.
- Allows me to act as a guardian of a sport we all love. Cycling works as a sport because there are rules; a structure and format to the competition. Being an official allows you to support racers by acting as the independent voice at events for the rules.
- Enables me to make a difference in the future of cycling. One of the best parts of officiating is helping junior riders live out their cycling goals. Without the local crit, ‘cross and MTB racing scenes, these kids would not really have cycling on their radars. Knowing what the sport does for me personally, I would not be able to live with myself if I let the door to cycling close on junior riders by not helping to to make opportunities for them to race and develop.
- Let’s me support local shops and clubs that hold events that would not exist without us. Cycling thrives when all of its constituents thrive. Racing is one of the ways cycling brings new people to the sport, and one of the ways the business community of cycling can interact with riders. Officiating allows me to play a part in enabling riders and the business of cycling to come together in the real world.
Take the USAC Official Exam
It’s not hard to become an official. There is an online course that gives you the basics. USAC also offers occasional classroom sessions. The cost is minimal (and under some circumstances free for first-time officials). I and many of my colleagues are ready to mentor you into your first season; to teach you what the course material touches on, but does not adequately cover. And there is a technical team at USA Cycling ready to give you opportunities to grow and develop (to ultimately work at national-level events, to gain additional certifications that add variety to the kinds of races you can work, and to offer you courses and seminars so you can elevate up the officiating ranks).
You’ll begin as a C-level official. For your first few races, you’ll be paired with someone with more experience until you’re ready to take a leadership role. You are paid (nominally, but enough to legitimize your presence as a professional) to work races. And you get to say no to any race assignment offered to you.
So here is my plea. Everything is in place and ready for you to get started as an official. The sport needs you. My colleagues and I are ready to help you through the process. Contact me if you have questions. All we need is for you to raise your hand.
What do you say?
– Steve Medcroft