Wilde Lake High School students press for park to accommodate their sport

The Baltimore Sun

Skateboard enthusiasts are pushing Howard County to build a place where they can showcase their skills, and county officials hope to accommodate them.

Two Wilde Lake High School juniors - Evan Sokolosky and Daniel Lesko - are part of the movement to get a skateboard park built at Centennial Park. The pair worked with Gary Arthur, direction of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, on a layout that would appeal to users of the park and to those funding it.

The proposed facility would replace an aging basketball court behind the park's north entrance, off Old Annapolis Road.

Arthur is expected to gauge the community's support for the facility at a Recreation and Parks Advisory Board meeting at 7:30 p.m. today at the department's headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.

"We're hoping for quite a contingent of folks who support skateboarding," Arthur said.

If the majority of those attending favor the project, Arthur will take the proposal to County Executive Ken Ulman.

"I've talked to Ken about it already, and he sounds like he's all for it," Arthur said.

If Ulman approves the project, construction could begin as early as May because funding for the park would fall under the current fiscal budget. Building the park would take less than a month, Arthur said.

Skateboarding has become the third-most-popular sport internationally, Arthur said.

Enthusiasts pressed their case with Ulman at a December budget hearing when a Woodbine woman held up petitions that she said had been signed by 600 people who want the county to build a lighted skateboard park in Western Regional Park in Glenwood. The proposed park in Glenwood could be next in line if the Centennial plan is a success.

"If it is respected by the community, we'll probably look at expanding in other areas," Arthur said.

For Sokolosky and Lesko, the new skate park could mean skating from dawn to dusk because the park would operate under the same schedule as Centennial Park.

"The main reason we need [a skate park] is because kids want to skate street elements, skate for free and skate when they want," Lesko said. "This park will allow them to do that."

Though unsupervised, skaters would be required to carry identification cards issued by the Department of Recreation and Parks when using the park.

Arthur said the ID card will provide information in case of an injury but that skateboarders are "totally responsible for their injuries."

Arthur has a history of skate park construction dating back 30 years.

"One of my claims to fame is that I worked with skateboarders and surfers in Ocean City and made a skate park in 1976," he said.

The 31 year-old Ocean Bowl skateboard park is the oldest such municipal park in the nation, according to its Web site. Arthur has maintained an interest in skateboarding since the park's construction.

"Skateboarding has evolved from 2 percent participation to become a mainstream type of activity, so agencies have tried to satisfy that," he said.

Despite the growth of the sport, skateboarding still evokes images of the "skateboarding lifestyle," Lesko said. Often portrayed as hooligans in Hollywood films, skateboarders around the area recognize that their sport does not have the credibility of other sports.

"It doesn't get acknowledged because it's not an organized sport with a coach. Skateboarders get stereotyped as bad kids," said Lesko, who added that the lack of coaching in the sport warrants a greater understanding by the individual skateboarder.

"Older kids are generally better at soccer than younger kids, but skateboarding is all about talent," Lesko said. "It's all that you can put into it."

For now, Lesko and Sokolosky can be found almost daily skateboarding with friends at Cypressmede Park off U.S. 40. The park allows skateboarding but has no ramps or jumps.

"Evan and I bring our own ramp that we bought and stick it on the basketball court sometimes," Lesko said. "Cypressmede is all that's left where we never get hassled by anyone."

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