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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Skaters have hard time finding a place to skate

Thursday, June 2, 2005

(Photo)
Corey Tinnin, 11, executes an
SIKESTON - With school out for the summer and a feature film on the sport's revolution slated for release, the stage is set for another round of clashes between skateboarders and area merchants.

Steven Jones of Sikeston, 16, said he has been skateboarding "all my life - since I was five years old."

Like many skaters, Jones is looking forward to the movie "Lords of Dogtown" which tells the story of how skateboarding was revolutionized by the use of urethane wheels and the development of the extreme sport-style the new wheels made possible - most notably, "going vertical" using empty concrete swimming pools and half-pipes.

"I think it's going to be awesome," Jones said of the movie. "It's about skating and pretty much what I do."

Whether it's in a skatepark or on the streets, skateboarding today is all about the tricks: ollies, nosegrinds, Caspers, kickflips and dozens of other basic tricks, combinations and variations.

For a short while in 2001-2002, Devon Mills, 19, ran a skatepark in Sikeston behind the Riverbirch Mall called "Dirty Barons."

"The lease was up and I didn't want to be stuck there anymore - I wanted to do other stuff," Mills explained. "I didn't want to have that responsibility any more."

For his part, Mills, who has been a skateboarder for about five years, said he is just as happy skating the streets as he is in a skatepark. "It doesn't matter - I'll do either one. I don't have a preference," he said.

However, with no skateparks in the immediate area, stairs, rails, ramps and ledges used to perform the best tricks are typically only found in commercial areas. Unfortunately for skaters, merchants are typically less than welcoming.

"I went to Dirty Barons when it was open," Jones said. "Now it's usually just wherever they'll let us - they usually don't let us skate anywhere. Some places if you skate there they'll call the cops."

Even without complaints from merchants, skaters historically haven't been warmly embraced by law enforcement agencies in general.

"Most of the time cops just harass skaters because they think we're all potheads and everything," Jones said. He said that is pretty much just an image created by movies - a claim substantiated by the "Lords of Dogtown" being rated PG-13 for, among other things, drug and alcohol content and reckless behavior involving teens.

Capt. Mark Crocker of the Department of Public Safety said in Sikeston it isn't anything personal against skaters, it's just DPS doing its job.

"They keep skateboarding on Wal-Mart and all these shopping center lots and they are interfering with traffic," Crocker explained. "We are called basically to make them get off their property."

"Going back every day doesn't help the situation," he added. "Eventually they will want to file a complaint for trespassing."

The risk of lawsuits is probably the reason merchants do not tolerate skateboarders even after business hours, Crocker said: "If they wind up getting hurt on their property they turn around and sue the property owners."

Crocker said while he doesn't recommend it due to safety issues, skateboarders won't get in trouble for skating neighborhood streets as long as they are not interfering with traffic.

Many communities have found building a city skatepark to be the best solution.

"We have had a skatepark in our five-year capital improvement plan for some time," said Jiggs Moore, parks department director for Sikeston. The skatepark presently is scheduled for fiscal year 2009 with FY-2006 beginning July 1.

As with all proposed expenditures, it all comes down to a matter of priorities, "and a skatepark hasn't been a top priority item," Moore said.

"I've been approached at different times over the years about a skatepark," Moore recalled. He advises those who are interested in seeing the park bumped up on the list to get a petition together to present to the park board and City Council members. "That way they can get a better feel for how many kids would be interested in a skatepark," he explained.

Moore said when he brings the idea before the park board, "that's the first thing they ask me: How many kids would this affect? Are there a lot of kids that would benefit from this? ... The park board could re-prioritize and move it up a year or two or more or, if we don't hear anything more, it could get bumped down to a later year. It depends a lot on what we perceive is the real demand for it. So far it hasn't come across as a big demand item."

Jones and his skater friends from around the neighborhood like Corey Tinnin, 11, Chase Tinnin, 10, and Bryce Tinnin, 9, said they would use a city skatepark if there was one available.

"I think it would be better to have a skatepark so the cops wouldn't get called," Jones said. "And they've got ramps and stuff at skateparks instead of just ledges and stuff you find on the street."

Crocker said he, too, would like to see another skatepark for area youth. "We want them to have something to do," he said.

In the meantime, conflicts between merchants and skaters are likely to continue.

"It's only going to get worse through the summer because they want to get together and jump ramps or whatever it is they want to do," Crocker said. "It's a problem and the only thing we can do is respond when we get a call and try to keep everybody happy, which isn't going to happen."