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Wanted: A place for skaters

They have their own way of dressing and speaking, but no place to skate, now that they've been chased away from most other locations.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2000


FLORAL CITY -- Fourteen-year-old Jacob Holm raced across the basketball court, his baggy khakis whipped against his legs, his red baseball cap covering his concentrated stare.

Unlike most of the players who use the outdoor court at the Floral City Church of Christ, however, Holm had no interest in the basketball hoops.

Holm's gaze was fixed on the wooden ramp at the center line of the court, spray painted with the motto "SK8 4 EVER." He went up the ramp on his skateboard but came down on his feet, his board slipping away during the jump.

"Dude, you were this close," said Billy Cline 16, holding his thumb and index finger about an inch apart.

"We ain't got no skills," Chris Wittman, 15, added with a grin. "That's why we need a skate park."

They have their own way of dressing and speaking, but these Floral City teens have no place of their own to practice skateboarding. They say neighbors, store owners and sheriff's deputies have chased them away from most areas except for the church's basketball court, which the Rev. Larry Hartman lets them use.

"There ain't a day that goes by when we don't get the cops called on us," Cline said. "That doesn't mean we get caught all the time."

The boys usually speed away on their skateboards once someone calls the police, but Cline said they are running out of other places to go.

They're not allowed in the street. They're not allowed in most parking lots, including the one outside the Floral City Community Building, because they could collide with other people and cars.

"It's a community building but I guess we can't use it," Cline said. "Aren't we part of the community?"

Hartman, who opened his basketball court to the skateboarders a month ago, said business owners and residents have legitimate concerns. Someone is bound to get hit when cars, skateboards and pedestrians share the same space, and no one wants to be held liable, he said.

"Skateboarding is not the safest hobby in the world," he said.

The county skateboarding facility that opened two months ago at the Beverly Hills Community Park was supposed to give these teens somewhere to go. But for kids who live in the far corners of the county and cannot drive, that skate park is out of the question.

"My mom comes home at six and she doesn't want to go anywhere then," Holm sighed.

"It's just too far to go to," Wittman said.

"We just need a place around here to skate," Cline said.

Somewhere to skate

The skateboarder's plight is nothing new in Citrus County.

Four years ago, a group of Inverness skateboarders asked Mayor Joyce Rogers for a place where they could skate without running into street traffic or supermarket shoppers in parking lots.

Rogers urged the teens to bring a skate park proposal to the city, but instead, the City Council passed a ban in 1997 on skateboarding and in-line skating in most parts of Inverness.

City officials said they wanted to prevent the skateboarders from running into cars, damaging property or scaring away customers, as some downtown merchants had complained.

But the result, Rogers said, was that those skateboarders had nowhere to go.

The teens who first approached the city no longer need their own park -- they have graduated from high school and moved on to other interests. But Rogers said the city now has a new crop of teens who need a place to skate.

Rogers said she wishes Inverness would follow the lead of Citrus County, which built a 12,000-square-foot skate park in Beverly Hills this year after the legislature passed a law limiting the government's liability for such a facility.

"Maybe (the county) could influence the city and show us how it works," Rogers said.

The 345 people who are registered to use the county skate park signed waivers clearing the county of any responsibility for their injuries. Minors needed their parents' approval.

The park is supervised during the day and locked up at night. Skaters are required to wear kneepads, elbow pads and helmets.

County Parks and Recreation Director Karen Barnett said the $130,000 facility has been a success, with up to 30 skaters using it on busy days. But she said the county cannot afford to build similar facilities in other parts of the county right now.

"It all comes down to funding. We have nothing budgeted for another one, and that becomes the issue," Barnett said. "We've spent a lot of money in the past few years building and expanding parks, and we're still a relatively small county when it comes to resources."

Skateboarders from Floral City and Inverness aren't the only ones asking for their own parks. Barnett said the county's next priority is to build a roller hockey rink somewhere, perhaps at the Lecanto Community Park.

A skate park is also needed on the west side of the county, said Crystal River skateboarder Brandon Buckingham, 14. Buckingham skateboards mostly on bumpy neighborhood streets, sometimes close to passing cars, because he has nowhere else to go.

"(The Beverly Hills park) is actually a decent skate park," he said. "It's just the traveling."

Buckingham has collected about 75 signatures on a petition for a skate park near Crystal River, but city officials say they won't be able to build one anytime soon.

"It's a great idea, and I don't want to be negative about it, but we've got other projects that we need to finish first," said John Lettow, assistant director of Public Works.

A place to call their own

Because local government dollars are limited, officials said the solution may be some kind of public-private partnership, in which businesses and parents raise money and help build facilities for the park.

Such partnerships have worked for the county before, Barnett said. Central Citrus Little League helped build Central Ridge District Park, and the Citrus Soccer Club is helping with the Homosassa Springs Area Recreation Park expansion, she said.

"They help by donating time, equipment and funding," Barnett said.

In order to work with any government agency, Rogers said the teens should get an adult mentor who can speak for them and "channel their frustration into positive action."

The Floral City skateboarders have found their mentor in the Rev. Hartman, who agreed to help the boys find a place for a skate park if they draw up a plan and tell him what materials are needed.

Hartman said he has already found a woman who might let the skateboarders build a park on her acre of property if she likes their plans.

The boys, their parents and community volunteers would have to help build the facility and raise money for any other costs, he said. Just pouring the concrete slab for the park could cost between $5,000 and $8,000, he said.

They would also have to agree on safety rules and decide who is liable for injuries, Hartman said.

The project would be a major undertaking, he said, but these skateboarders would finally have someplace to call their own.

"We have a goodly number of boys between the ages of 13 and 16 who are interested in having something to do, and they're willing to work for it," Hartman said. "There's not a lot for them in this area, and we're willing to work with them."

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