Westminster College will see the addition of a men's and women's cycling team, including mountain and road disciplines, to its range of non-NCAA programs starting Fall 2017.
Utah’s geography is host to one of the biggest cycling communities in the country and some of the best cycling in the Western United States. Many see Westminster’s proximity to these landscapes as a complement to the athletic programs at the college—especially to a cycling program.
Shay Wyatt, director of Westminster College's athletics program, said he is excited about the opportunity to bring cycling to Westminster.
“Our geographic location, student interest and the opportunities that it could present for the college are a big reason for the push for the team in the past two years,” said Wyatt, who was named Under Armor athletic director of the year in 2014.
Cycling programs at the high school level are expanding and producing athletes who want to take their talent and passion to the collegiate level, opening up possible recruiting pools for the college, according to Wyatt.
“The number of students we already have involved in cycling and the cycling community surrounding Westminster provide a great foundation for the team,” he said.
Cycling teams are a large part of some of the athletic programs at institutions in Westminster's conference, including Fort Lewis College and Colorado Mesa University. Like Westminster, these institutions have a large cycling community in their surrounding areas.
MJ Turner, the head coach of Westminster’s cycling team, is on the board for the Intermountain Collegiate Cycling Conference and said he is excited to be part of Westminster’s most recent endeavor. Turner graduated from Westminster in Fall 2016.
“I have been talking with Shay for two years now," Turner said. "The main guy I suggested to [coach] the team moved to Colorado, so I stepped up to the plate.”
Turner said Westminster is a great school with athletic programs that appeal to a breadth of students and said a cycling team could help Westminster continue its athletic growth.
In 2006, Westminster had 90 student athletes. Today, the college has over 300 student athletes and 16 NCAA and non-NCAA programs, according to Wyatt, who has helped expand the athletics department since he was hired in 2006.
"The new program is a chance for students who have not found a suitable college that combines their education and passion for cycling," Turner said.
Rob Squire, a junior math major at Westminster and an international cycling champion, has been part of the driving force behind the new cycling program.
At 19, Squire was on an academic scholarship to the University of Utah. While he was competing internationally, he would miss class regularly and said his absences were acknowledged as unexcused.
“I was going to the U on a full-ride academic scholarship and they were not willing to work with me and cycling,” Squire said. “I went to every guidance counselor, professor and coach and because cycling was not [NCAA], no one helped.”
Squire said his grades slipped, he lost his scholarship to University of Utah and he decided to leave the University.
“I was on Facebook and one of my mutual friends posted a link about the Westminster College cycling team, and I contacted every person that was mentioned in the press release,” Squire said.
Squire contacted Turner and said he entertained the idea of continuing his education at Westminster College and using his accolades and qualifications as a student athlete to help the program gain momentum.
“I am really excited to be a part of a ground-level program that I think is going to be nationally renowned in a few years,” said Squire, who said he has become re-motivated to get his degree.
In contrast to his preceding experience with the University of Utah, Squire said he is excited that Westminster recognizes the opportunity it has with cycling and the need to foster it.
“Everyone I have talked with is excited and wants to be a part of it," Squire said. "Coordinating everyone involved is going to be the biggest challenge.”
The cycling team begins with road training this spring and will make its debut in collegiate cycling in Fall 2017.