What if we treated all athletes like skateboarders?
I ask this question because I am a skateboarder. I grew up playing almost every sport (football, soccer, baseball, basketball, judo, etc.), and I witnessed firsthand how much support these sports receive in this area. Unfortunately, skateboarding receives little reinforcement here because some people automatically attach an unmerited negative stigma to the sport.
Recently, I have had a couple of run-ins with a particular Waynesville police officer. Sometimes after business hours and on rainy days I skate under the covered area at the Public Works Building — it is always dry and the ground is smooth. Just last week I was skating there by myself when two town workers showed up. They dropped off some things, waved at me, and then left. Next, two police officers pulled in, filled their cars up with gas, and also left.
Some time later, a different police officer, this one unaccompanied, pulled up to also get gas. But he was different from the other town employees and the earlier officers. He, I quickly realized, had hassled me in a threatening manner before. He saw me skating and walked swiftly over in an irritated manner. He sternly told me to leave immediately or that he would arrest me. I calmly asked the officer why he felt the need to kick me out when two town employees and two other officers saw no nuisance in my skating there.
The officer would not hear my questions, he became very angry very quickly, and began to shout, “If you do not leave here or if you say another word you are going to jail!” All I wanted was a rational, unaggressive conversation with the officer. I proceeded to ask him who I was hurting by being there after hours? Where else did he expect that skaters could go, since there is no designated place for us?
He replied, “The town doesn’t want you here, and if you keep talking you are going to jail.” Immediately following this encounter, I went to the police department and spoke to the sergeant on duty. He was very receptive of my thoughts and comments and appreciated my informing him of the situation.
Skateboarding is the 12th most participated sport in America. Like other sports, it fosters numerous benefits for millions of children and teens: it is a great way to exercise, it is an avenue for young people to find commonalities and to form friendships, and it teaches the values of self-discipline and hard work. Kids who are busy skateboarding are not sitting at home playing video games, watching TV, or eating junk food. Nor are those who really love skateboarding wasting their time experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Like other young athletes, dedicated skateboarders find the sport to be a postiive outlet.
I am not a criminal. When the officer approached me the other day I was not stealing, hurting others, or vandalizing. I was skating.
I am a 28-year-old professional skateboarder. People pay me to do this, they provide me with free equipment, and they send me all over the world. But in my own hometown, I am far from welcome and instead told to “Get out!” Skating has been such a blessing to me. It has afforded me amazing opportunities and has taught me invaluable lessons in life. Yet, some around here hate it because they simply do not understand it, nor do they care to get acquainted with it.
For quite sometime Waynesville has been in the process of developing plans for a skate park. I am on the committee and there has been no major development on the project in months — there have been no updates and it does not appear that there are any upcoming meetings. What are skaters supposed to do? I refuse to go sit at home and watch TV because there will “eventually” be skate park in town. Runners, swimmers, and those who play soccer, football, basketball, baseball, disc golf, and tennis, all have places where they can go without being kicked out. The town has provided them with fields, gymnasiums, courts, and a pool to satisfy their recreation needs.
What about Waynesville’s skaters?
Thankfully there is a small privately owned skate park located in the Eagle’s Nest area, but it caters to only middle-schoolers and high-schoolers. Skaters, like other athletes, range from children to adults.
I challenge those in this area to no longer discourage youth from engaging in a sport that has captivated millions across the globe. I appreciate the town’s plans to build a skate park. But until the facility is actually built, instead of telling local youth to go back home to their living rooms and television sets and kitchen pantries, let us be understanding of their skating around town.
By Jared Lee • Guest Columnist