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Kids help skate park movement get rolling

A junior high skate club finishes a petition drive and is ready to start lobbying officials for skateboard facilities.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 13, 2002


They're not your typical activists. But the skate club at Coleman Junior High School has found a cause worth fighting for: a skateboard park for South Tampa.

Last week, members finished a petition drive. Now they're ready to storm City Hall. Or at least find a way to convince local officials to acquire land and dole out tax dollars for rails and ramps.

"Some will agree. Some won't agree," said Gerald Brooks, 14. "We have to figure out how to get them on our side."

City officials know the demand for skate parks is out there, and are planning a $90,000 street course at DeSoto Park that may open by next spring. DeSoto Park is in Palmetto Beach, a neighborhood south of Ybor City on McKay Bay.

The budding activists aren't satisfied.

Palmetto Beach is too far for them to skate or bike, and they were hoping for a more elaborate park, said Bryan Perry, Coleman's school resource officer and the skate club's adviser.

"We're not going to stop," Perry said.

All the best spots close to home are off limits, the kids say. Security guards chase them. Cops do, too.

The reasons: trespassing and potential destruction of private property.

Ryan Kingsley likes the steps at the Wyndham Westshore Hotel.

"You can ollie on the stairs, and kick-flip," he said, naming common skateboarding moves.

He leaves when he's told, but usually comes back later.

There's nowhere else go, he says: "Everything is private property."

Some skateboarders admit their moves can loosen rails or chip concrete.

"This is all we do," said Matthew McCagg, 13. "If they want us to stay home and watch TV, what does that say? They want us to rot our brains?"

Some parents are backing the effort.

On weekends, they drive to Skatepark of Tampa, on Columbus Drive, or to one of several skate parks in Pinellas County.

"I would love for them to get a skate park over here," said Teresa Redus, mother of Coleman student Bryce Redus, 12. "I just hauled them to Gulfport."

The skaters have another ally in Perry, the school resource officer.

He's the father of two teenage skaters.

"Some look at these kids as rebels," he said. "But they're not. They just have a lot of energy."

It was Perry who came up with the petition idea.

He envisions a busload of skaters heading to City Hall or the County Commission. He told them to start brushing up on their public speaking skills, and to do their homework on what kind of park they want and how much it will cost.

In the meantime, they know good grades are a condition for staying in the club. So is being polite to teachers.

If they show disrespect, "They know I'll get rid of them," Perry said.

The students at Coleman are just the latest group to lobby the city for a skate park, said Wayne Papy, the city's recreation director.

One group in South Tampa sent e-mails to Mayor Dick Greco. Another came up with a design. In New Tampa, city officials recently met with more than 50 parents pushing for a skate park.

"This is a trend throughout the country," Papy said.

The city landed a $150,000 state grant this year for improvements to DeSoto Park, including a skate park.

The 10,000-square-foot, street-course facility will include ramps, rails and trick tables, said Brad Suder, a landscape architect with the Tampa Parks Department.

Skateboarders, in-line skaters and trick cyclists should all be able to use it.

"It's like what you'd see . . . on Xtreme Games," Suder said. "It's what everyone's doing right now."

In October, the city hopes to buy equipment at discount rates from vendors attending the National Parks & Recreation Association conference in Tampa.

The facility may be open by February or March, Suder said.

Another skate park is in the works for New Tampa. Suder wasn't ruling out more.

Many skaters would consider anything an improvement over the old-style skate park at Perry Harvey Park, near the Morgan Street Jail downtown. It was built in the 1970s.

At a skate club meeting at Coleman last week, some members proposed fundraisers to pay for a new park. Others said the city owes them.

"We're paying taxes," said Leonard DiGeronimo, 12. "Why shouldn't we get some of it?"

If a new park gets built, club members promised to use it.

"When they build it, you guys will come, right?" Perry asked them.

"YEEEAAAAHHHHH!!" they said at once.

- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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