Skate Boarding is Not a Crime - Yet
By Anne McKay Garris
Sherry Gorecki, center, the youngest of the speakers at a meeting between skate board enthusiasts and city officials, presented her arguments with clarity and aplomb.
Many of the people who gathered at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, last Wednesday, were young, and carried a skate board under their arms. They sat quietly and listened more politely than many older people might have in similar circumstances.
It was clearly an important meeting to the officials of Clearwater. Presided over by Mayor Frank Hibbard, it boasted the presence of City Manager Bill Horne, Clearwater Councilmembers George Cretekos and John Doran; Parks and Recreation Director Ken Dunbar, Beach Police Patrol Commander Lt. Joe Young; as well as several members of the Clearwater Beach Association Board of Directors. No one can say that the city did not take the young skate boarders and their supporters seriously.
On the other hand, the City Officials clearly expected the skate boarders to take them seriously. Mayor Hibbard offered a welcome, then promptly called attention to two large poster boards which boasted pictures of damage done by skate boarders, on Mandalay Avenue, along Beach Walk and in other parts of the city.
Lt. Young followed this up with explanations of city actions. "We haven't outlawed skate boarding," he began, and went on to point out that police have only posted signs forbidding skate boarding in certain crowded areas of the beach and stepped up issuing warnings about violations of the skate board ordinance.
Next City Manager Bill Horne reported that he had received a petition from merchants along Mandalay Avenue, saying that customers were being endangered by skate boarders on the sidewalk in front of their stores.
He noted that the signs forbidding skate boarding on the steps and sidewalks of City Hall were frequently ignored as skate boarders clattered down the steps, across the sidewalk, and frequently into the driveway of the parking lot.
The Mayor told a story about reprimanding a pair of skate boarders in front of the public library. "Who do you think you are," they sassed, "the mayor?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," responded the Mayor, offering them his card.
Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar told the audience that Clearwater has a 30,000 square foot, world class skate board venue at Ross Norton Park, not far from Clearwater Beach. He invited all of them to come.
"And how much does it cost?" asked a member of the audience.
"It doesn't cost anything." responded Dunbar, clearly surprising much of the audience.
Justin Haggerty was the first to respond to the Mayor's invitation to the audience to speak. Pointing out that he was not a resident of Clearwater but was, "in Clearwater frequently," he spoke of our diverse community where every element should have their rights. He also pointed out that there was a difference between skate boarders and long boarders, implying that long boards were mostly used for transportation.
Next to speak was a mother of two boys who protested what she called, "Clearwater's efforts to make skate boarding illegal." She quoted her young 12-year-old son as commenting, "Do they take a driver's license away from all drivers because some of them drink and drive?"
All of the speakers insisted that the troublemakers were a small representation of the majority of skate boarders. They insisted that they, personally, were respectful of others when they skated. Most of them talked as though the city was restricting all skate boarding and many t-shirts bore the slogan, "Skate Boarding is not illegal."
A representative of the tourism industry on Clearwater Beach begged to differ. "We are a tourist community," he said. "Tourism provides our community's income. All of us need to use common sense and be respectful of our visitors at the Beach."
One visitor spoke up for skate boarders. She pointed out that her family frequently came to Clearwater Beach to shop and dine because her sons enjoyed skate boarding here. She indicated that, if they were not allowed to skate board, they would be unhappy here and she did not go where her children were unhappy.
Jay Keyes, president of the Clearwater Beach Association, expressed the concern of CBA members over the skate boarders who often skated four abreast on Mandalay Avenue, blocking the progress of cars on this main thoroughfare. "More important," he said, "we are concerned about the mostly young skate boarders who have been "playing chicken" with cars, darting in front of them and risking their lives in the process."
There were several creative arguments presented by the skate boarders. One young man assured the audience that taking up skate boarding had "cured me of drinking and using marijuana."
Another one said that he used his for transportation from his home on the North Beach to his place of business. Asked how far the current rules required him to walk, instead of skate board, and he acknowledged it was two blocks.
The most charming speaker of the evening was a petite young lady, who stated that girls enjoyed skate boarding as the kind of exercise that helps them lose weight.
Barry Tilmann, vice-president of the Ian Tilmann Foundation, offered to assist the city in placing skate board proof fixtures along Beach Walk and in other places. He also offered the assistance of his organization to aid in putting together skate board activities. Named in honor of his son, Ian Tilmann, who died in a skate board accident, the foundation works to encourage the use of helmets by skate boarders and otherwise works for safety in the sport.
A member of the board of the Friends of the Clearwater Beach Library And Recreation Center asked the group how many lived on Clearwater Beach. Less than one-fourth of the skate boarders raised their hands. She asked if the "Friends" sponsored a skate board event at the Recreation Center how many would participate. Even fewer raised their hands. Several in the group said they would like to see the city make a skate board venue at Mandalay Park. On further inquiry, it turned out they meant McKay Field.
The Mayor promised that the City Council would take the matter under advisement and see what could be done, reminding them, however, that the damage to city property would have to cease.
After the meeting, a bevy of skate boarders plied their sport on the basketball court at the recreation center. Watching their lithe and graceful movements on the skate boards, I remembered the days when my generation sat themselves down in little sailboats, tightened the sail and flew across the water. It was so enlivening. Watching the skate boarders, I was glad no one offered me a turn on their skate board. I would have been so tempted.
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