Team Talk with George Martinez, Luther Burbank High School
A few years ago Officer George Martinez was a schools resource officer in the Sacramento Police Department, working to deflect at-risk children from a future of violent crime and prison. After meeting with the NorCal League at the Sea Otter Classic in 2007, high school mountain biking seemed an obvious activity for the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) program that Officer Martinez was running as part of his schools resource work.
Now George runs a well-established high school mountain bike racing program for at-risk students, which is intended to educate, motivate, and encourage them to make wise life choices.
Q: What are the goals of the G.R.E.A.T. program?
A: “We try to equip students with sound decision-making skills, to counter negative influences in their lives, and to help them see what they can get if they finish school, go to college and get a degree."
Q: What resources were available when setting it up?
A: “We used bikes from unclaimed property. Bike mechanics came forward to get them in good working order, and that was our racing fleet. Since then we have been fortunate to receive some grant money for the club, which has the name Luther Burbank High School Mighty Titans.
Q: How have the team numbers varied over the past three years?
A: “I'm now on patrol, but when I was working in the schools I had more access to kids. A couple of years ago we had 12 or 15 that were in high school and several more in junior high. Last year we dropped down to four team members, but now we're back up to 12 in total, and eight of those are racers.”
Q: What did you do to grow the team again?
A: “The vice-principal from Luther Burbank came to a race and was very impressed with a video made by one of the coaches. My partner edited it, and we now have a video we will be able to show in schools. It has helped a lot. There's a lot of recruiting to be done, and we think the video can help us get results."
Q: What kind of results are you seeing among your team members?
A: “If I keep just one team member a year from going to prison or getting hurt in gang violence, that's a success. There's a lot of discipline and education in this team, like not trash-talking other trail users, and respecting the land. The freshmen are still learning, but the seniors are starting to look like life-long bikers, asking about how they will be able to continue the sport after they graduate high school. It's very important to keep kids in the program for several years.”