Hoping for a sporting chance

Residents, officials explore building a skateboard park

Anne Arundel

April 15, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

When Leslie Heird's son started skateboarding a few years ago, she wrote it off as a phase. But now 12-year-old Sam skates anywhere he can - in garages, in parking lots and on sidewalks - until someone asks him and his friends to leave.

Heird and other Severna Park parents want a legal and safe place for their children to skateboard.

"We need a place to go because we get kicked out of everywhere," Sam Heird said.

The dozen parents lobbying for a skateboard park in the area have caught the attention of committee created by the Anne Arundel County's Recreation and Parks Department to look at the issue, and their effort could result in the county's first public skateboarding area if the money is raised.

The parents are frustrated because they sometimes have to take their children to distant skateboarding areas such as Vans Skatepark at Potomac Mills in Prince William, Va., which has rails, bowls and a 40-foot-wide ramp; or Spicy Skatepark in White Marsh in Baltimore County, which has ramps, pipes and rails.

Leslie Heird said that when her husband, Mark, and their son traveled to the West Coast last summer, they found many skateboarding areas. They wonder why the sport isn't widely accepted in Anne Arundel, she said.

"It's a way of life; it's a legitimate sport," Heird said. "And here it's seen as a crime."

Tom Donlin, parks administrator for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said the department has received numerous requests for a skateboarding area in the past few years.

The committee formed to look into the issue has identified a need for a skateboarding park and determined that the department could build one. The group is looking at the cost, location and design of a skateboarding area.

"There are folks who are skating, and they need a place to do so legitimately so they're not damaging property," Donlin said. "We've seen an increase in the number of skaters, and I know it's caused problems in areas such as shopping centers."

Donlin said the cost, which can range from $70,000 to $400,000, is the main obstacle. He said that the department doesn't have the budget to build a skateboard park, and that he hopes residents will offer financial assistance so that the department won't have to try to get it on the county budget.

"It's our hope to harness some of the energy from the community," he said.

Donlin said the next step is to talk to the community about the cost, and learn what kind of facility the teens envision. Sam Heird said he's not too picky - he just wants some ramps and rails.

Karen Fox said she would be willing to help raise money. She said her Ben Oaks neighborhood doesn't have the sidewalks or flat, smooth roads that would be ideal for skateboarding for her son, Brian, 13, and his friends. Sometimes, they resort to skateboarding in Fox's garage.

"When you get nine boys in my garage skateboarding, there's not much room," she said.

The parents think one of the bigger challenges will be trying to change the public's perception that teens who skateboard are "bad kids." Heird said she has talked to representatives from local businesses and churches to try to counter that perception and to rally support for a community skateboard park.

"The first thing we need to do is dispel this myth that it's not a sport," she said.

Fox said she plans to design T-shirts with the message "My son is a skateboarder, and I'm proud of him." She also said she plans to start a letter-writing campaign to urge county and state officials to support the cause.

"It's so much an image thing, that they're bad kids, and they're not," Fox said. "Bad kids cover all age groups and socioeconomic groups. These wonderful young men who are great kids get treated terribly because people don't understand."

Sam Heird said he thinks the stereotype is "stupid." All he wants is a place where he and his friends can skateboard.

"It's like the only thing that most of us like to do," he said.

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