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Whiting-area skateboarders hope to get skate park built in city

Gathering with their skateboards bikes Clark High School Hammond Aug. 18 were: (left right) Chris Clark 18; Tim Vaught 19;

Gathering with their skateboards and bikes at Clark High School in Hammond on Aug. 18 were: (left to right) Chris Clark, 18; Tim Vaught, 19; Justus Jones, 15; Conner Sprycha, 15; Jason Cornelius, 25; Joshua Williams, 18; Christian Ponce, 15.

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Updated: October 2, 2013 11:38PM



Industrial, business and residential redevelopment has paid dividends for Whiting residents and attracted visitors to a vibrant downtown, a morphing lakefront recreation area and the sparkling Oil City Stadium for baseball.

Yet not all residents have been swept off their feet by the wave of renewal. In fact, a number of city kids, teens and young adults have bounced from city park to parking lot to empty space looking for a place to skateboard or do tricks on their bikes.

In 2010, the Whiting Skatepark and Standard Diamonds complex at the east end of 119th Street was demolished to make way for the city’s new baseball stadium (now home to high school and collegiate teams.) For six years, area skaters and bike riders had had a home field of sorts, but Whiting officials have been hesitant to build another.

“There are a lot of kids here that don’t like baseball,” said Conner Sprycha, 15. “So it’s kind of like (city officials) tore it down for something not everyone likes and then they left us with nothing.”

Sprycha was among about a dozen teens and young adults who spoke to the Post-Tribune at a few recreational venues around the Little City on the Lake. The Clark freshman is polite, wears his hair long and is pursuing an Eagle Scout rank as a Boy Scout.

He is a part of a core group of seven teens from Whiting (and a couple with city addresses that reside in the Robertsdale neighborhood of Hammond) whose mode of transportation is a piece of wood or composite material on wheels.

The teens happen to like what is a popular and commercially successful “extreme sport.” Though some have played baseball, soccer, football and other “organized sports,” they remain a unique breed.

“I played varsity baseball four years straight in high school — yeah, it’s good,” said local skater Tim Vaught, 19. “But with skateboarding and bike riding, you don’t have a coach yelling in your ear about, ‘hey, do this.’ It’s your own thing.”

Skating buddy Joshua Williams, 18, added: “People have to understand skateboarding is serious: we don’t just throw ourselves down stair sets because we like to get hurt.”

Whiting mayor Joe Stahura recently said the original skatepark was completed early in his administration to provide options for local skaters and bike riders. The 8,000 sq. ft. venue featured an 11-foot-deep bowl and “steps, ramps, ledges and rails for all the grinders,” according to whitingindiana.com.

Stahura said the skatepark was “absolutely abused” and he’d hear frequent reports of vandalism, including graffiti and damage to the perimeter fence. Plans to reconstruct a skatepark were not pursued because the mayor said it was a simple dollars and sense issue before the city council.

“I felt I had made a mistake with the public’s dollars,” said Stahura, who had hoped the park could be a resource for skateboarders from kids to adults in their 30s and 40s. “Our idea was to give them a place to be able to do their thing so that they had something to be proud of. It never ever was maintained.”

City Hall funded the construction of the Whiting Skatepark to the tune of $150,000 and paid for upkeep.

On Aug. 18, school was still out and the teens skated on the steps of Clark High School. In short order, a Hammond Police squad car rolled up and an officer explained that the group had to move on.

Heading northwest, they arrived at the newly expanded Whiting Municipal Sports Complex. Their presence on the sidewalks near a modern-day incarnation of a jungle gym added to a couple dozen people who were mainly in the nearby stands watching a softball game.

The Whiting teens’ brand of skateboarding is characterized by both a freestyling way of getting from Point A to Point B, as well as a tricks phase. The skaters sometimes seek man-made or “street” objects like steps, inclines or rails where they perform tricks such as Ollies (no-handed jump with the board) or slides, where a part of the board glides along an hard surface.

The skateboarders’ interaction with other park goers was minimal that day; a small group of girls and boys watched them as they performed flip tricks off a short, concrete-topped brick landscape wall. After about 15 minutes a Whiting Police patrol car pulled up to the walkway.

The officer got out of the car and told the teens they were damaging the park structures. There were scuffmarks visible on the concrete surface. The skaters attribute those to “BMXers.”

“We get kicked out constantly and the cops aren’t very polite,” said Sprycha, who carries a pocket-sized broom to clean up any dirt or landscape materials that he may disrupt while skating (the skaters have even pulled weeds out of vacant lots that they utilize.)

By Sept. 9 a sign was posted at the sports complex. It read: “Whiting Municipal Sports Complex — No Bikes No Skateboards No Scooters.”

Stahura said Whiting complied with the mandates of its insurers and placed the signs in prominent locations. He also explained that the city was dealing with a report of a woman who was allegedly toppled by a skateboarder or BMX rider at the sports complex this summer.

“They just put up (a “No Skating”) sign at the park where we all hang out and skate,” Sprycha wrote in an email. “We have nowhere to go.”

Sprycha denied that anyone of his core group of skateboarding buddies had anything to do with vandalism.

“It’s funny because people think we’re the ignorant people,” Williams explained. “But there are actual ignorant people coming in and defacing that as well.”

The mayor said he did not want to paint the skateboarding and BMX bike enthusiasts with a broad brush. Yet a few bad apples among the younger set could ruin things for the others.

Stahura offered a suggestion to the skaters. Acknowledging that he didn’t exactly know what a teen skateboarder or BMX biker would want, he said they should feel free to use the pavement and open grounds at parks where no prohibitive signage was posted.

“I can see possibly trying to help to find some temporary amenities that are better than they have today,” said Stahura.

Both the group of friends and the mayor said they want to avoid making sweeping generalizations about the actions or intentions of the other party.

The skaters said they weren’t certain of the city administration’s position on the skate park question. Showing renderings of concept venues on an iPad, the teens said they could give plenty of suggestions if they’d be welcome.

“Justus (Jones) makes our little prototypes,” said Sprycha. “We have plans for a (skate) park. He has the wood, the materials and we’ll just sit down with a piece of paper and look at it and figure out what we can do.”

The Whiting area youths said they could provide city and parks department officials with “a committee of guys” who could tell them what they need. They would avoid constructing the “ridiculously” large concrete bowl and concentrate on amenities for street-style skating.

When asked about the possibility of an informational meeting with the local skaters, Stahura warmed to the idea.

“I think I need to understand them,” said Stahura. “And at the same time, I think they need to hear from me.”

If lines of communication are opened and something comes of the meetings, the Whiting-area residents said they would feel like they are part of something important.

“If there’s a park built, that’s practically history in this town for us,” Jones said. “Because it would be like (our) group of skaters started that park.”



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