Chehalem Valley BMX continues to grow
Perched atop multicolored bikes and wearing protective clothing, a swath of helmet-clad youth prepare to burn rubber. Safety is a priority, of course, but so is speed.
On a comfortable Thursday evening in Newberg, the sound of brakes screeching, tires smacking against pavement and coaches yelling out instructions fills a portion of Ewing Young Park, where locals ride their bikes in an unconventional setting.
For many of the kids in attendance, it's the first taste of BMX racing.
Chehalem Valley BMX competes against teams from around the region and even has a beginner's program, where kids with minimal experience in racing can hone their skills before stepping into the competitive arena.
"The program we have right now is a beginner's league to help the kids who have never raced or have very little experience," track operator and coach Paul Stumpf said. "We can tune them up and get them up to speed with the riders who have been riding for many years. It gives them eight practice sessions of two hours apiece, fine-tuning some areas where they struggle and boosting their morale and love of the sport."
The track at Ewing Young Park was built 20 years ago this year. It's located in the heart of the park, adjacent to the town's legendary skate park and not far from the pond where President Herbert Hoover used to fish as a youngster.
Since the park's inception two decades ago, the popularity of BMX locally has fluctuated; Stumpf took over operating the track a few years ago after the previous track operator dealt with health issues that limited the number of events held there.
Stumpf was one of the first people to buy a membership at the track back in 2000. Now he's tasked with leading the program and providing much of the coaching for the kids in it – all on a volunteer basis.
He claims an upward trend in popularity has been made possible by a team of coaches and folks on the operations side of things.
More and more kids, he said, are coming out and trying the sport.
"I had always been a volunteer and partook in it, and I saw the track really falling in popularity and tried to pick up the pieces," Stumpf said. "I've always been a social person and friendly with people, so it really just worked out that people came together and this track became what it is today. It's only getting better and better, too."
Kids in the program practice twice a week and compete in races on Saturdays, whether at their home track or elsewhere in the state. Competitors are not allowed to race until they've completed the eight training sessions required under the beginner's program.
From there, the program provides freedom to compete and build camaraderie, all while learning from expert riders older than Stumpf and as young as high school age.
"That way they're not getting demoralized when they get to competition," Stumpf said with a laugh. "We did the beginner's program last year and it added 53 riders to the track that we didn't have before. It's a big thing and it can only grow from here."
Between his job as a welder-fabricator and being a father, Stumpf makes time to lead a group of coaches that guide the young bikers and host older ones at the track. The sport is unique in the way it brings people together, he said.
"It's a very family-oriented sport," Stumpf said. "We have kids as young as 3 years old and adults as old as 60-plus out there riding. Age is just a number and it's fairly consistent with competition in the various classifications.
"It's the one sport where you can sit down with someone and connect no matter what," he continued. "You can have someone who's a welfare recipient making friends with someone who's making six figures, and you'll go to lunch together afterwards."
For more information on the Chehalem Valley BMX program, visit the website at www.usabmx.com/tracks/1514.
The club is affiliated with a national organization in USA BMX and the track plays host to a number of events for kids and adults of all ages and skill levels.