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Clarksburg teens make it clear they want a skate park

by Paul Leakan


(September 27, 1998) Teen-agers around the country can see it on television: professional skateboarders contorting their bodies into human pretzels while floating in mid-air.

In Clarksburg, teens would like to attempt those same feats at home. Or, on the streets. Or, at school. Or, at the park.

The reality, however, is that skateboarders are often run off by police officers and yelled at by some business and property owners. Other than their backyards, there are no legal places for them to skate.

Even though the kids often get chased off, the issue isn't going away.

City officials have been seeking input from area teens the last few months to discuss the types of activities and facilities the city should provide. And, more than two dozen times, teens have stressed two words -- skate park.

But while many area teens want a skate park to legally defy gravity, some in the city think the plan may defy logic.

The biggest obstacle could be providing ample insurance against injuries suffered at the skate park, said Clarksburg YMCA Director Buzz Matthews.

"Unfortunately, in today's society you have to be worried about liability," Matthews said. "I know you can sign a liability release, but that won't hold water in court."

The Clarksburg YMCA pays in excess of $12,000 a year for its liability insurance package, covering up to $3 million in claims, Matthews said.

"I have to have that,'' Matthews said. "If I didn't have insurance and we had an accident up here, and we were ordered to pay up, the Y would not be able to continue its operations, even if we weren't at fault.

"It would wipe me out," he said. "That's the reality."

That reality, said Jim Manilla, isn't as bleak as Matthews said. The liability problem can easily be worked out, according to Manilla, who is the owner of Adventure's Edge and Wall Street Board Exchange in Morgantown.

Manilla, one of the volunteer organizers for a proposed skate park in Morgantown, said the city's park commission can work out a plan with its current insurance provider to include a skate park as part of its policy.

Fairmont, which also has a skate park in the works, will likely follow that plan.

Bob Ashcraft, assistant city manager of Fairmont, said Fairmont's current insurance carrier has agreed to add the skate park to its general liability policy.

From his research, Ashcraft said insurance companies don't appear to be worried about a mountain of injury claims at a skate park. The statistics, he said, show that skateboarding isn't as dangerous as some people believe.

"There's a lot of data and statistics that really don't support all the fears that people have about getting injured in these skate parks," he said. "Obviously, there's a hazard. As long as you wear the safety equipment, it's a controlled danger."

Skateboarding, a recreation that more than 8 million people practice nationwide, has much fewer reported injuries than bicycles and in-line skating, studies show.

More than 36,000 people had to be treated in an emergency room for skateboard related injuries in 1996, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In that same year, the study revealed that 103,000 in-line skaters and 400,000 bicyclists needed to be rushed off to an emergency room.

Even so, city officials, businesses, communities and insurance companies will have to get involved to agree on safety standards for the park to work, Matthews said.

"No one wants to see a child get hurt," he said. "Sometimes young people don't care about being hurt. They think they're invincible. Whatever we do, it's gotta be safe."

Helmets, knee and elbow pads and a "lifeguard" to monitor the park would all be ways to help ensure safety, he said.

Safety aside, Manilla said the Morgantown skate park would finally give some skateboarders a place to go -- without feeling like they're committing a crime.

"This is what's happening now," Manilla said. "People need to change with the times. You've got your in-line skaters and skateboarders. There's a ton of them out there. They need a place to go."

Morgantown has a temporary skateboard facility at White Park. The site, a former single tennis court, is complete with half- and quarter-pipe ramps. And make no mistake, Manilla said, people are flocking to skate there.

"It's sort of like the 'Field of Dreams,'" he said. "If you build it, they will come."

Clarksburg Mayor Louis Iquinto hopes that's the case. He said the city may choose to build a multipurpose facility for teens, including a skate park.

As for local teens -- well, it's apparent that they're anxiously awaiting the site.

"What we need to do is put all these facilities in one big skyscraper," said 16-year-old Liberty High student Ben Honaker.

The city, if it chooses to go forward with the plan, may begin work on the site this coming June, Iquinto said.

Until then, Ivan Wamsley, a 15-year-old sophomore at Liberty High, feels the city should make an effort to clean existing sites -- especially some of the glass-lined basketball courts.

Matthews agrees.

"You've got to get them back on your side," he said. "Let's win the support of the kids now and carve out things that are easy to do.

"If we attack some of these little things now, they may say: "Wow, they're listening to us."