SA's single City-sanctioned skateboard park isn't all it's cracked up to be for local skaters

Friendly hollers reverberate among the giant pillars beneath the underpass, as stark light reflects against white concrete embankments. Hard wheels scratch against the pavement - then the grating sound stops momentarily as a rider attempts a floor trick - and begins again as a metallic grind of trucks on an unwaxed curb. Loud curses punctuate the evening air as unkempt youths retrieve their errant boards. Someone spots a police

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Raney Beres, 10, is silhouetted against an open dock dooway as he rides one of several quarter pipes at the Tank skateboard park on the Northeast Side of San Antonio. Photo by Mark Greenberg
cruiser, and everyone drags his feet back to an inconspicious refuge. To the relief - and disbelief - of the skateboarders, the cruiser whizzes by without so much as a flash of warning lights, and the group dashes madly back to the spot to retry the night's unstuck trick or effortlessly scale up and down the tall embankment walls, skating until exhaustion - or until another round by a police officer results in citations.

These nameless underpass spots, scattered throughout San Antonio, are hangouts for skateboarders who lack a legal, permanent skate park. A few people have died skating in streets and parking garages and lots - albeit their deaths weren't well-publicized. Awareness has finally been raised in the City Council, and the Northeast Side Independent School District, which are finally banding with grassroots skaters to accommodate the increase in skateboarding's popularity by establishing safe facilities for the sport's fans.

City-sanctioned parks are long overdue in a sport with more than 16 million participants in the U.S. alone. San Antonio and Texas' glacial pace of building skate parks is embarrassing: Oregon has 72 all-concrete parks, Texas has three. Yet, the City Parks and Recreation Department recently opened a skate park - the first in more than two decades - at Springtime and Babcock Roads on the Northwest Side. "`The City` took over this land from the neighborhood association, and we saw a need for skate parks," explains Randy Hutcheson, a Maintenance Supervisor for the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is spearheading the City campaign. The park boasts a $40,000 set-up, courtesy of corporate contributions from Ben & Jerry's, donated during the company's annual convention in San Antonio. Springtime, as it's called, is the first of four City-operated skate parks to be built by 2004, and has received mixed responses. Regarded as a success by the City, the park is already plagued with potholes and cracks that could catch a board's wheels, or injure the skaters, who choose to skate the park at their own risk. "As much as it sucks, we won't get kicked out," says Nick Shamas, who has been skating for 10 years.

Until recent weeks, the skate park remained well-lit until its 11 p.m. closing time. Today, the lights fail to come on, and a newly posted sign states that the park closes at dusk, leaving school-aged kids with little time to enjoy their favorite pastime. Despite the park's shortcomings, City Councilwoman Bonnie Conner, who resides in the Springtime district, is respected among parents and skateboarders for her local support. Local skate activist Reagan Beres remembers clearing a BMX bridge behind her house and overhearing two 12-year-old boys saying, "You know who's cool? Bonnie Conner's cool!"

A grassy field sprawls on the corner of Nacogdoches and Naco-Perrin, under which lies the City's first all-concrete skate park, the Northeast Skateboard Slopes, built in 1979. A private skate park was erected in 1988, later changed to San Antonio Heights, followed by a series of abandoned warehouses and small backyard ramps.

These backyard ramps and privately owned skate parks are the only other legal option. The Tank, at 4306 Naco Pass, is an indoor, all-wood park offering space for "extreme sports" such as BMX biking, in-line skating, and skateboarding. Yet, helmet and pad requirements, as well as a cover charge, discourage many skaters from attending. (Unlike the unsupervised City-sanctioned park, the Tank requires minors to sign releases to skate.) Funtown, a park at General McMullen and U.S. 90, has a skate

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Regan Beres (left) and Hope Burkhart enjoy the antics of members of the MacArthur skate club during a recent session at the Tank skateboard park. Beres, a teacher at MacArthur High School, has been the driving force behind the schools' first skateboard club. Photo by Mark Greenberg
ramp and frequently hosts contests in the area. At a recent session, the consensus was that a skate park needs to be built to accommodate kids from the South Side.

Two years ago, respected senior skater Carter Dennis, a D.I.Y. pioneer, began construction on the city's largest, most prominent backyard skate ramp, known as the Southside Ramp. "Everyone pitched in materials and labor and built it for free," explains Dennis, who has worked for Parks and Recreation since 2000, and offers critical insight about skateboarding to the City, "learning from years of experience, and not having ramps to skate after all our favorite street spots got busted." The privately owned ramp was recently bowled off at the end to memorialize Edward McDuffie Jr., an older skater who lived on the property. The ramp is used by skateboarders of all ages, most notably Raney Beres, age 10, future skateboard superstar, who often leaves onlookers slack-jawed with his skills.

NEISD has managed to keep the cool in skateboarding with its unprecedented approval of the City's first school-sponsored skate club at MacArthur High School, led by teacher, mother, and longboarder Reagan Beres, a well-known fixture among older skaters. The club meets weekly for sessions at the Tank, and frequently features guest speakers such as Dennis and GoodTimes Skateboard shop owner "Shorty" Marshall. "These are kids who would not wear school colors, and now they're like 'Yeah, MacArthur!' in the club's blue-and-white T-shirts," says Beres, whose skate club competes in statewide contests, and recently bringing home top spots from a session at the New Braunfels TSR Skatepark.

Beres has recently teamed up with Dennis to begin a non-profit organization to raise funding for all-concrete parks in San Antonio. Parks and Recreation is slated to begin construction on a concrete skate park at Lady Bird Johnson Park in October. Originally designed by Dennis in 1998, the plan lost funding and shrunk to 10,000 square feet, including a multi-purpose pool for skating between October and May. Dennis argues that he has "skated long enough to know that if you do `ramps in the pool` it's going to get really messed up." His opinions have been shunned by Parks and Recreation for being "too negative." Instead of backing down, Dennis has joined the citizen's advisory committee in Toni Moorehouse's South Side district, which is the future site of the third planned skate park at South Side Lions Park. Beres describes it as "an existing park that nobody utilizes that's being turned into a 30,000-square-foot, all-concrete skate park." Red tape may delay the park's construction for another three years. The proposed blueprint is nearly identical to a park in El Paso and is strongly supported by City Councilwoman Moorehouse. Instead of having Parks and Recreation do another "half-assed" job, explains Dennis, "We should contract nationally known skate park building companies like Dreamland or Grindline, which are very altruistic and actually know what they're doing." •

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