Skaters rebut recreation director

Published 9:10 pm Saturday, March 6, 2010

SELMA — The young men and women who use the skateboard park at Bloch Park have taken exception to remarks by the city’s recreation director.

At a recent Selma City Council Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, Elton Reece, director of the recreation department, said some skaters had vandalized other portions of the park, used bad language, littered the site and used obscene gestures.

The description by Reece shocked a couple of the council members so much, they opted for closing the skate park down soon.

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But some of the people who use the park regularly have said they’re getting a bad rap.

Clay Smith, 20, helped drive the force to have the park constructed in 2007. He skates there many hours.

“That place is my home,” he said. “Why would I mess it up?”

Smith said he’s seen the graffiti at the park. He labeled it gang graffiti and said he had cleaned it up from the skate park in times past.

A Selma Times-Journal reporter has visited the skate park several times at different times of the day and night to observe the actions of skaters at the park.

Graffiti spray-painted in black on one of the ramps shows the first and last names of three girls who are, as painted on the ramp, “best friends.” No foul language and no gang signs are obvious at the skate park.

During those unannounced visits, the reporter did not hear obscene language, observe any illegal behavior or vandalism.

Adam Pope, 27, said much of the problem comes from the reputation skaters have nationwide. They are regarded as rebels that damage property with their skateboards and who break rules.

At one time skateboarders were regarded as rebellious and of the same genre as surfers. But as the activity has gained in popularity, so its culture has changed, or so it seems. For instance, Disney XD has a popular show, “Zeke and Luther,” which focuses on a couple of teenagers who want to become pro skaters. Disney hired a skateboarding consultant to help with the actors, but also to help with the image.

Pope says he’s drawn to skateboarding because it’s an individual activity. He and Smith see it as art rather than a sport.

“You have the freedom to do your own thing. Push yourself,” he said.

And the skateboarders do just that.

Saturday afternoon Tony Hatch worked on a particular stunt. He had not warmed up. He sped from one end of the park to the other and reached to grab his board in mid-air. The result: he rolled on the concrete. Hatch hopped up, picked up his board and went after the same stunt again.

A father and his son pulled up. The child asked about a skateboard. Hatch handed his over and the father and son went out to the ramps to tray out the skateboard.

Young children are welcome, Smith said.

“We like to work with them and show them how,” he said. “This is something they can do. We aren’t bad people. We care about the park.”

If the park closes down, the skateboarders will have to go back to riding the concrete at the Dallas County Courthouse parking lot, where they were before. Skateboarders don’t want that.

The skateboarders would like to see the rest of the park completed. They’re still skating on phase one. The other two phases have yet to come. Skateboarders would like more lights and maybe a concession stand, so they could buy water and snacks while they’re at the park.

They also want more people to come out and watch them — maybe try skateboarding.

“Come see us,” said Smith. “Come see what we’re doing out there”