If you follow social media, you may have seen some great pictures of kids riding their bikes during the winter here on the Seacoast. A few weeks ago, SABR board member Annie Poubeau sat down with Hampton resident Jonathan Ruffus to discuss the youth biking program at the Hampton Youth Association. This program is led by community volunteers and each of them is committed to their mission statement: “to bring the joy of cycling to kids who have not had many opportunities to ride a bike, as well as to refine the skills of those that already have a solid foundation and want to push their skills to the next level.”
Created in 1962, HYA is a nonprofit organization offering recreation sports year-round. In late 2020, because of the pandemic, HYA was looking for alternative activities for local kids. Board members approached Ruffus because of his passion for cycling and his past experience coaching softball for them. Ruffus became the Biking Commissioner and came up with the backbone of the program. The infrastructure, experience and reputation HYA has in place made it possible to go from inception to “go live” in just three weeks for over 150 kids. Even USA Cycling chipped in and worked miracles to get the program registered, licensed, and insured to meet the deadline.
Ruffus and his team ran 45 rides for the Fall program (November and December) and they ran 25 rides in the Winter (January and February) with a total of over 200 kids participating. For each ride, they met at local schools and biked through the towns, on the streets, in the local forests and the rail trail to give a comprehensive picture of what biking can offer, especially from downtown Hampton. Rides were organized by grade and were about an hour long – ranging from 5 to 10 miles. The Winter program was unique including night rides for grades 5 to 8, even in snowy conditions. As safety is an important piece of any successful program, the Hampton Police provided an excellent rider safety clinic. In addition, all volunteers underwent a background check and special safety training offered by HYA. Masks were required for all riders and coaches and everyone followed the school protocols for COVID-19
The success of the program may best be summed up by some actual quotes. The first is from a first grader: “This is way more funner than video games!” And, Amy Roy, a Hampton resident who had three of her sons (second, sixth and eighth grades) participate in the Fall and Winter programs, said, “The HYA Biking Program provided my kids with a much-needed opportunity to get outside, socialize safely, and physically challenge themselves in new ways. It renewed their interest in biking and encouraged them to reasonably push their limits.”
Ruffus would like to thank the local businesses who sponsored the program: Exeter Cycles, Gus Bike Shop, Las Olas and Russell Associates Realtors. He would also like to recognize all the volunteers behind the scenes, The Hampton Schools and the leading members of HYA, in particular Jason Leaver, HYA president, Nick LaPierre, HYA vice president and Ryan Elliott, HYA IT director. Ruffus calls them “The Magicians” because it seems anytime he asked them “Is it possible to do this?” they got it done right away.
Two hundred individual children have now come through the program since Nov. 3rd. Spring will bring a race series and Ruffus is hoping to get more visibility around the program and also more resources. The biggest focus right now is exposing everyone to the different aspects of biking they never knew existed: Large group rides, night rides, ramps courses, riding safely straight up Route 1, racing series for both road and mountain bikes … the list is endless. Ruffus ended our conversation with these words: “We know we will have been successful when we start seeing multiple families and all of their kids start going on their own group rides without the support of the HYA Biking Program.”
Thank you to Jonathan, the dedicated HYA volunteers and all the parents. Visit the HYA website at https://www.hyasports.org.
For more stories about awesome Seacoast bicycle riders, check our website at www.seacoastbikes.org.