From bare bones to solid grind

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Selma gets close-up look at the makings of a skate park

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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Monday’s exhibition in Selma was nothing close to the X Games.

But that didn’t exactly sour the spirits of the skaters that showed up.

American Ramp Company built a portable demonstration park on the upper parking lot of Bloch Park.

It would be a mistake to refer to this as just a skateboard park, however. Skaters on anything with wheels as well as some interested citizens gathered to show their support and see first-hand the hoopla surrounding the proposed park.

“I think this is cool,” said 24-year-old Adam Pope. “I’d like to see them build a concrete park like the one in Alabaster. Hopefully, they’ll look at that park and see what it’s done for that city. It’ll attract people from Montgomery and even Birmingham if it’s built right.”

Pope has been skateboarding for 17 years and has traveled as far as Louisville, Ky., to find quality venues. He was one of the more experienced skaters at the demo Monday.

Over the past few years, backing for the park has gone as high up as city hall.

Mayor James Perkins Jr. recently asked the city council for funding to complete the first stage of the park.

He was part of the crowd that eagerly watched the skaters showcase their skills.

“This park would be a good asset, and it would be a good addition to recreation for our city,” Perkins said. “It would also contribute to the efforts of fitness, wellness and prevention in the healthcare areas. It would add a lot of value to Bloch Park. It’s our goal to raise the money this year to get it.”

The ramps, rails and picnic bench that were set up were just small samples of the park the city eventually wants to have in place.

A three-part, three-year process – with $60,000 being spent in each phase – will eventually produce a park that should be more than adequate for the interests of the skaters in the city.

“We need something here to support the kids in Selma,” said Michael Moseley. “All we have to do is hang around parking lots until we get chased away by the cops. If we got this, think how many more people would skate. If we had a place here in town, I’m pretty sure a lot of kids would come out here and start skating or bring their bikes out.

“Everybody likes the X Games.”

Skateboarding seems to have a unique following among youths. The sport’s makeup is not really comparable to many others.

Its emphasis is more on patience, repetition and toughness rather than aggression.

And despite what seem like obvious physical risks, it has far less injuries per participant than most other major sports.

Statistics from the SAFE KIDS Campaign showed almost 185,700 children ages 5 to 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for football-related injuries. More than 205,400 children in that same age group were treated for basketball injuries.

Baseball and softball (108,300), bicycling (285,000) trampolines (80,000) and soccer (75,000) all had high instances of injuries.

Skateboarding reported 50,000 emergency room visits for America’s youths.

And it’s growing as quickly in Alabama as anywhere else.

“I was up in Anniston, and it started raining,” said Oral Long, driver for the ARC portable park truck. “It didn’t matter. They skated until they were done. Matter of fact, they said the rain cooled them off. I was glad to see them get something to play on. I’ve got two little boys, so that makes me very familiar with what goes on out here.”

Skateboarding is not some new fad and doesn’t have a cult following.

It has turned into a multi-billion dollar, international industry and made millionaires out of young men who previously got chased away by policemen.

Scott Gunter, 42, remembers his days as a teenager and said the sport is so much different now than when he was involved.

“It wasn’t like this. We used to do this in dried up swimming pools,” Gunter said. “I used to get sandpaper and cut it out to fit the skateboard to get grip. Now they come built with that. I also built my own ramp, and now the kids have all this other stuff to skate on.”

While basketball and football will still rule the roost in Dallas County, it seems there is plenty of room to add to the list of options.

“I started when I was in Tennessee,” said 15-year-old Henry Shannon. “I asked a guy to show me how to do it, and he showed me how. Ever since then, I’ve been learning more stuff. It’s growing already. When we first started, nobody was out here, and when we started skating, everybody came to our part of town.”

“It’ll probably get bigger.”