Extreme challenge
Athens teens push for a skate park

ATHENS Skateboard wheels grind across pavement in a parking lot behind Athens High School as political hip-hop music thumps from a car stereo. Launching his board off the rim of a wooden ramp, Mike Anderson hurtles toward a jump ahead, leaving the landscape behind him in a burnt orange blur.

DAILY Photo by Dan Henry
Athens High School senior Mike Anderson practices a trick.

He flies over the top of a 3-foot, double-wedge bank, grabbing the front of his board with his left hand in a move known as the Melon Grab. Before he can land on his feet, he crashes, slamming his hands and knees into concrete. He picks himself up and keeps trying to nail the trick.

"One fluid run is the most perfect thing," says Mike, an Athens High School senior. "It's like the planets align."

Scrapes, cuts and bruises don't discourage him. He picked up skateboarding because in-line skating wasn't challenging enough. It's taught him balance, coordination, self-_expression and determination, lessons he and other Athens skaters have used to approach their biggest obstacle yet: persuading the city to give them a skate park.

Mike has signed petitions and sent e-mails to city officials, expressing the need for a safe place to skate. Other teens and their parents have attended City Council meetings. Three skaters, ages 11 to 15, met with Mayor Dan Williams last year after police ordered them to vacate sidewalks and stairs they were riding around the square.

A place to skate

The city gave them 75 feet of temporary space behind the high school to keep them from blocking sidewalks and traffic and promised to work on plans for a permanent skate park. The "skating spot" hasn't been enough to satisfy teens.

"I went for a little while, but it didn't seem big enough," says Colin Case, an Athens High senior who prefers to skate downtown. "There wasn't enough there to spark my interest."

Scattered with homemade ramps, weathered boxes and wood chips, the spot looks like a construction site. Nails poke out of wooden obstacles, worn from use and teens' attempts to reconstruct them into something more challenging.

After using hurdles at the spot to perfect a few basic tricks on a recent afternoon, a group of skateboarders moved downtown so they could practice Ollies off a set of seven steps at an empty house.

"Hit your trick and run, fellows," says Mike, who watches across the street for cars.

Cody Swift spots a grassy slope at a bank nearby and can't resist. He and Nathan Rodriguez speed down the sidewalk on their boards, jump and land on the other side of the bushes.

"We're not trying to cause trouble," says Cody, an Athens High freshman. "We're just trying to have fun."

Store owners concerned about their liability don't see it that way. Some have posted "No Skateboarding" signs in their windows. Others call the police when skateboarders ride on their property. Nathan got his board confiscated when he almost collided with a car downtown.

"We're not on a crusade against skateboarders," says police Capt. Marty Bruce. "We just need them to be safe, and we don't want them to get hurt."

Not welcomed

Even at their temporary park, the skaters aren't always welcomed. Walkers nearby have complained about them throwing nails on the track, an accusation Michael Coughlin doubts.

"People prejudge us because of the way we dress, because we act silly and goofy sometimes," says Michael, an Athens High freshman. "It doesn't mean that we're not nice, or that we have an attitude."

Talk of using a federal grant and community donations to turn the city's old pool into a skate park has circulated for more than a year, but other than forming a committee to check into the cost, little action has been taken. The city isn't trying to put skaters off, Mayor Williams said, but forming a park takes time and money. In the meantime, the skaters won't give up their wheels.

"There are kids who are good at riding a piece of wood," Mike says. "It gives them something to do so they won't get into trouble."

Emily McMackin

TeenFRONT Editor