Skateboard teens to ask council for a place to roll free Local hardtop currently off limits NORTHWEST -- Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown

September 23, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

The oversized shirt Daniel Harmon wore appeared to swallow him as he leaned back in his chair in the Taneytown Public Library. His dyed-red hair peeked out as he adjusted his baseball cap.

"Skateboarding is not a crime, and you can quote me," said Daniel, leaning forward to emphasize his point.

It was this message that Daniel and fellow skaters Spencer Yelton, 14; Brian Sanders, 15; and David Hess, 14, want to get across to the Taneytown City Council, whose help they need in their search for a place skateboarders can call their own.

"Mostly what we want is for someone to give us a spot," said Daniel, 15. "They've [the city has] got everything else: tennis courts, basketball courts, baseball fields. Why not a place for us?"

Brian agreed.

"My dedication is so great I ride [the skateboard] three miles just to get here to ride," said Brian, who lives on Taneytown Pike surrounded by farmland. "You can find plenty of places to hoedown out there, but not a single place to skate."

The boys said their current skating spots are anyplace they can skate uninterrupted until the proprietor, the police, or some irate adult shoos them away.

And when signs prohibiting skateboarding suddenly appeared in the lot at Northwest Middle School, they were given the permanent heave-ho from one of the few available spots in the city.

"We have always told the kids that because of the residue they leave behind on the sidewalks and the yellow curbing that we didn't want them skateboarding," said Bronson Jones, the middle school principal.

Mr. Jones also said he believed skaters were responsible for damage to concrete benches behind the school.

But no one has ever seen the skaters using the benches for their tricks, he acknowledged.

"We get blamed for everything," said Spencer, shaking his head. "We're over there so much, they just figure everything that happens is our fault," he said.

"They just look at our baggy clothes, short haircuts and decide we're like skinheads or something," Brian added. "There's this thing that we are bad kids," he said.

"The worst we've ever done is wax a curb. We use canning wax to make the surface more slippery," said Daniel. He demonstrated a "nose slide" on a table by moving the front tip of his skateboard along the surface edge. "Then it's easier to do when you ride the board with the nose sliding along the curb."

When the middle school property became off-limits, the boys decided to take action. Joe Dougherty, 15, and Daniel asked Police Chief Mel Diggs about city skateboarding laws.

"He told us we couldn't skate on the sidewalks or in the street," Joe said. "We asked about the bank lot, and he said as long as they said it was OK we could."

It was then they decided that skaters in town needed a place to enjoy their sport.

With their skateboards placed wheels-up beneath their seat, the four of them -- minus unofficial leader Joe, who was working -- sat as quiet as altar boys on the pew-like bench at the back of the room during last week's City Council meeting.

Much to the amusement of the mayor and council, the four teen-agers admitted they were not sitting in on the meeting for a school assignment.

But they were doing their homework.

"We just went to learn how to present a case to the council about getting a skateboard park in town," said David. "We asked a council person if he would help us present our case, and he said he would."

Councilman Henry C. Heine Jr. discussed strategy Monday night with the boys at David's house. Mr. Heine said he thinks the boys have an "excellent idea."

"There has always been a conflict in town about skateboarding," said Mr. Heine. He said a past ordinance prohibited the sport but was rescinded after complaints from parents.

"It seems to be something that is not going to go away, although it has its phases of popularity," Mr. Heine said. "It needs to be addressed."

Mr. Heine said the boys have proven themselves willing to work hard for their project.

"The way they described it, this would be a joint effort between the city, and parents and friends who would build the type of equipment skateboarders need," Mr. Heine said. "They are not asking for a lot of land. What they are asking for is roughly the equivalent to a basketball court."

Mr. Heine said he believes the city could provide land for a skate park somewhere within the city's park space.

He advised the boys to drum up support from the residents and service organizations that might be willing to help finance their project so they will have something concrete to present to the council next month.

The boys are working on their proposal, playing devil's advocate as they prepare for the council meeting that could result in their finally having a place to roll.

"Someone brought up the liability factor," Joe recalled. "But as far as that goes, a person could fall off a swing, or the slide or anything like that at a park, and we have plenty of them."

He continued: "There could be the cost factor . . ."

"Christmas lights," Daniel interrupted, referring to the $6,000 the city plans to spend on holiday decorations. "If they can spend all that on decorations, they can find money for a skate park."

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