Story last updated at 1:12 p.m. Thursday, September 19, 2002

Long-awaited skate park opens
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Homer skateboarder Devion Hagen, 16, attempts a trick on a quarter-pipe at the new skate park beside the Homer Boys and Girls Club. Pavers put the finishing touches on the new surface Sept. 12.  
ACS. Wells Fargo Bank. The Homer post office. South Peninsula Hospital.

If you're a local skateboarder, these are just a few of the places that have defined the fringe status of your sport in the past. Many businesses post signs that leave no doubt.

McDonald's. The Homer Courthouse. The Legislative Information Office.

Prior to last week, most of the kids with skateboards in Homer could point to their favorite paved surface and say without hesitation: "I've been run off from there."

That all changed Thursday afternoon when the last of Dick Gregoire's paving rigs -- which had been working on an area in front the Homer Boys and Girls Club under the direction and financial backing of the City of Homer -- rolled off the newly laid asphalt.

Just as soon as the pavement had set up, a dozen or more kids moved in and got to work arranging the home-made ramps and rails and boxes that are the backbone of any self-respecting skate park.

As they did so, they left the fringe and staked their claim to a piece of asphalt that would not be off limits -- Homer's newest, and, according to the skaters, its best slab of pavement is the town's first sanctioned skate park.

photo: news

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Photo by Sepp jannotta, Homer News A group of skateboarders pose at the New Skate Park.  
"It's awesome, that's all I can say," said 16-year-old Reed Multz-Matthews. "That's one of the best things that's happened in this town since I moved back here (from Nikiski).

"We can't get kicked out now. We bring in our own stuff, and we get to skate as much as we want."

After school on Monday, 10-year-old Anthony Livsay watched the dozen or so other skaters doing tricks on the ramps. Clutching his new board to his chest, he talked about the things he was looking to learn.

"I can ollie, and I can almost do a kick flip," Livsay said of his skateboarding learning curve, which could be flattening out as he spends more time skating and watching the older kids at the park.

And beyond the worldly advice they offer on tricks such as a "grind," a "360" or a "board slide," Livsay and other young riders can thank many of these older kids for having a place to gather and ride at all.

Two years ago, a group of junior high and high school students, with the help of some very dedicated adults, organized the Homer Skateboarding Association with the expressed purpose of lobbying for a skate park.

The paving of 8,000-square feet of Boys and Girls Club property brings the group to the brink of realizing that goal. All that remains is purchasing and installing more permanent equipment and making some improvements to the area's layout and infrastructure, including signage, that will require users to be wearing protective equipment such as helmets.

Where previous Homer teenagers had failed to get off the ground in the quest to earn the legitimacy and financial backing necessary, these kids have nearly closed the deal.

Their secret is their remarkable perseverance, said Bob Shavelson, one of the Homer Skateboarding Association's adult members.

"It's been a wonderful learning experience for them, and it's helped them to understand how our legislative system works and about overcoming adversity," Shavelson said. "I think the kids are coming out of this with an appreciation of 'if you put the work into it, the rewards will come from your efforts.'"

Steadfast determination has helped the group raise more than $40,000 in grant money -- including $25,000 from the Rasmuson Foundation and another $10,000 from a foundation run by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

For a group of hard-core skateboarders, the Tony Hawk Foundation money was the major score of the process, helping the skate park not only increase its chances for success, but giving it an endorsement from the man many kids say is the best ever. To make it even sweeter, Hawk jotted some hand-written suggestions for the park's design in the margins of the grant acceptance letter.

Over in city hall, Homer City Manager Ron Drathman and Anne Marie Holen, who helped draft both the Rasmuson and Hawk grant proposals, photocopied the letter for their files and gave the original to 16-year-old Eric Szymoniak.

"I'm definitely going to frame it and put it up somewhere," Szymoniak said.

After dozens of weekly group meetings and numerous forays into the heart of city government, after a number of false starts and downright setbacks, this group of skateboarders saw its funding campaign take off. They also saw a city government that was happy to welcome them into the process and ultimately rewarded them by helping to arrange the agreement with the Homer Boys and Girls Club for the use of its property.

"The (Homer) Skateboarding Association has always been an organized and dedicated group," Councilman Ray Kranich said during the Homer City Council meeting last week, when the money for paving the lot in front of the Homer Boys and Girls Club was approved. "They are very deserving of our support. They've always had their ducks in a row, so they are deserving of our support."

In recognition of their efforts in city hall, the Homer Skateboarding Association earned Spirit of Youth's 2002 award for participation in government and business, one of many awards given out by the nonprofit to youths who make a difference in their communities.

According to Annie Moylan, another of the group's adult mentors, the difference this community will see is that a group of kids will prosper from becoming invested in the establishment of the full-fledged skate park.

To that end, Moylan said, she hopes the community and the kids themselves will help raise the last $8,000 needed to cover all the costs of installing the $55,400 worth of steel ramps and other equipment in the park. A minimum of $6,000 will need to be raised locally as part of a matching arrangement with the Rasmuson Foundation, which will kick in the final $6,000 of its grant.

"There's an incredible amount of fourth-quarter fund-raising that has to happen," Moylan said, adding that with permanent fund dividend checks on the way, now is the time for local kids and adults to play a larger role. "If they've bought in with their own dollars, they become beholden to each other."

Homer News reporter Carey James contributed to this story.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer-news.com.

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