For nine years, basketball had been Jay Murphy's primary expression of athleticism.
By the time he entered his freshman year at Glen Burnie High, the slender teen-ager could shoot jumpers or drive the lane with the best of them.
But just as Murphy seemed on the verge of a career on the hardwood, the sport of cycling entered the picture.
Until joining the school's cycling club, Murphy had been only a casual rider. But as swiftly as a 7-foot center might reject the shot of an adversary, he dropped basketball for the thrill of pedaling down highways and experiencing the adrenalin rush of a high-speed chase along the open road.
Murphy transferred to Old Mill High as a sophomore and joined the fledgling Annapolis Bicycle Racing Team (ABRT) the same year.
"I entered a lot of local races and liked it right away. I did so well that people had a hard time believing that I was only 15," said Murphy, now 23 and a Defense Department employee.
Since Murphy, a 1988 Old Mill graduate, joined the ABRT, its membership has grown from only a dozen local riders to about 50 from around the Baltimore area.
Formed in 1986, the ABRT leapt a huge hurdle a year later by gaining the corporate sponsorship of Snow Valley Mountain Spring Water. Snow Valley remains the club's chief financial supporter, but the bulk of its equipment is supplied by Bowie's Schwinn Shop.
Locally, Bike Works has maintained a verbal agreement as the club's part-time equipment supplier and financial backer of its races.
It also employs two club members, with John Santoro, the club's lead rider, working in its Annapolis location, and Mike Birner in its Pasadena branch.
"It's been a long process, establishing sponsorship," said Murphy, the club's most experienced rider.
Cyclists are categorized according to ability across five levels, with a No. 5 rating going to beginners and a No. 1 going to elite or professional bikers.
The rankings are determined by participation points gained from racing in U.S. Cycling Federation events. These include the training runs conducted by the ABRT three to five times a week, and those that award a purse to the top finishers -- like last weekend's Fort Meade Cherry Bomb Criterium, sponsored by the College Park Bicycle Club.
Most official bike races take on one of three forms: the criterium (a short, all-out sprint of one mile or less); the road race (from four to 110 miles, ending with a sprint); and time trials (an individual effort of varying lengths, pitting the individual against the clock).
"A road race has everything, hills, descents and even may involve racing against the wind," said Murphy. "You have to be pretty aggressive in a criterium, and in a time trial, the shortest time wins."
To participate, cyclists first must become licensed by mailing an application and $32 to the USCF and must pay the fee annually for the license to remain valid.
Besides Murphy, the ABRT has three other riders with No. 2 classifications. They are Annapolis' Charlie Snyder and Jeremy Alm, and Severna Park's Judd Garrett. Santoro and Birner are 3's.
The club's youngest participant is a 13-year-old and its oldest is 50, so no one should be discouraged from trying the sport, said Murphy.
"Once you get the basics down, anyone can enjoy it," he said.
ABRT members pay annual dues of $45, which entitles them to such benefits as financial coverage by the club should an individual enter an out-of-town race while on vacation or on business trips.
"We don't require you to be real competitive," said Murphy. "Just as long as you just keep trying, you're supportive of the club and you promote cycling."
If you're a county cyclist and you get a flat tire or simply need directions while riding, don't be surprised if an ABRT member shows up and offers assistance.
"Those are the types of things we try to do," Murphy said. "We just try to promote cycling through club rides and races, getting people on the fringes to get a little more serious, and making people interested who weren't before."
Birner, 20, had little interest in competitive racing until the end of his senior year at Severna Park, when he walked into a local cycle shop to purchase a bike and met an enthusiastic Murphy.
"He talked to me a little bit and basically got me interested," said Birner, a 1990 Severna Park graduate who was licensed in 1991.
"I remember trying my first race, the Tour de Crofton, later that September ," said Birner. "I finished near the back of the pack. But Jay started coaching me, and pretty soon I was into the competitiveness of it."
Birner, who earned his associate's degree in architecture from Anne Arundel Community College, since has built a reputation as one of the most reliable members for ABRT.
"Mike, John and I mostly race in category 2 and 3 competition," Murphy said. "Maintaining the team concept is very important."
When the lead rider experiences equipment trouble, like a flat tire, it's not unusual for a team member to give up one of his tires and walk to the finish line.