A Manchester teen-ager set out this year to change a town's attitude toward young skateboarders and in-line skaters, and it appears he might succeed.
Paul Gutierrez, who is about to start his freshman year at North Carroll High School, was appointed as the first Youth Representative to the Manchester Town Council in the spring. He quietly sought the newly created position because he wanted to persuade town officials to provide a place where he and his friends could pursue their passion for in-line skating and skateboarding.
The activities are banned within town limits, and the prohibition is strictly enforced by Manchester police. Penalties have ranged from warnings to fines to juvenile arrests.
Councilman Joseph Jordan and Police Chief Timothy G. Timmons agree that Paul is a "great kid."
"Paul may be only 14, but he is focused on his goal," Jordan said.
"Paul is a great kid, but most important, he is a realist," he added. "He didn't come to council meetings looking for some grand skateboarding park like the one Westminster has. He was willing to settle for something smaller and more obtainable."
As a result, Jordan said, the council has been looking for a suitable site where youths can skate and not bother anyone.
Jordan said a business owner is interested in donating land for such a site or paving an area owned by the town.
"We are looking at placing something at Christmas Tree Park on York Street, and a proposal could be made as soon as next month's Town Council meeting," Jordan said.
That would be great news for Paul, one of six children of David and Kathy Gutierrez. His parents support his crusade, but Paul admits they have warned him not to violate the skating ban or risk losing his skates.
Paul said that skateboarding and in-line skating are the only issues his friends have wanted him to take to the council.
"The council, especially Mr. Jordan, have seemed very receptive," Paul said. "A lot of the older people don't see skaters as kids playing a sport. They see everyone as hoodlums. They see a skater and just call the police."
Some young skaters have not endeared themselves to residents.
Property owners "don't need to be cussed out when they ask skateboarders to move on," said Timmons, whose officers regularly receive complaints about skateboarders.
"Skateboarders got a bad name when a railing at a church was broken, and we were blamed for it," Paul said.
"I know Paul," Timmons said. "He's a good kid. I've asked him to move on a couple of times and had no problem with him at all."
"Unfortunately, it's 5 or 10 percent causing problems, and all the rest suffer," said Timmons, who has a plan to curtail the vandalism sometimes blamed on skaters.
He said he has solicited business owners to support a proposed reward program to offer $100 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone committing vandalism.
Manchester has had a rash of vandalism this summer, Jordan said, and funds to repair damage have been depleted.
"We had to spend a lot to repair the restrooms at Christmas Tree Park because of vandalism," he said.
Jordan would like to establish a site for youths to skate legally and give them a lesson in responsibility, a "pride of ownership."
"If we help them out and they don't take care of it, then they can't come back to us with any complaints," he said.
Paul and his friends have plans to begin educating residents about skaters Oct. 2 at Manchester's second Youth Day.
"Last year, most older kids didn't go [to Youth Day festivities]," Paul said. "Youth Day was for little kids, but this year, we are going to put on a skateboarding and Rollerblading demonstration, so older people in town can see what we do, that we are just kids playing a sport we love."
The skaters also will seek signatures on a petition, asking town folks to support their efforts to have a legal place to skate.
"I'd like to get at least 250 signatures," Paul said.
Pub Date: 8/23/99