A pessimist approached me in conversation yesterday. He said to me, “for two years, you have been talking about bringing people together at the skatepark and nothing has happened. He continued, “I look around and nothing has changed. There is no one here and no one knows about what you do.”
I sat and waited for him to finish. He was not done. “Skateboarding is not about bringing people together. ‘Scooter kids’ come in and take over with no respect. The students you bring in are not skaters, they have nothing to do with skateboarding. To them, skateboarding is a fun thing they do at a scheduled hour. They are not ‘thrashers.’ You failed Bill and you the true skaters do not even show up at the park anymore. Bringing in ‘special needs people’ to skateboard is dangerous too. This is not a place for them. They should not be allowed to skateboard here. In here, it is possible to die. The ‘special needs kids’ will never be true skateboarders. It is not right what you have done and no one even knows about your school.”
Coach Bryant was next to me, quietly listening. He and I sat on the floor while our pessimistic brother lectured me on the dangers of the mission, the failure of it all and its impact on the skateboarding culture in the area so far. He even mentioned the talks of a new skatepark proposal in Greenwich, Connecticut and how the same culture at that park was not in the essence of the ‘thrasher’ culture.
Brother man ended speaking and I began.
“I understand what you are saying, but it has only been one year to the month that the first school started in Stamford. It is now doing well in its second year. Moreover, a second skateboard school has begun in Westport with great enrollment and individual classes have begun to be taught at Ridgefield by Coach Greg. There is approval being waited on to have a summer skateboard camp in Rye, New York’s skatepark and sumer camps will happen in Stamford and Westport this summer. Of an initial inventory of ten skateboards, the first nine have been sold and the tenth is slated for sale to another student.”
I continued, “Please do not make this a me thing. This is an effort by many and you keep making it about Bill. I cannot do it alone. This has involved skateboarders right from this park, parents in the community, town governments and yes, people with special needs.
It is a dangerous sport. You are right. But the people with special needs and their parents know this when they sign up. They have a right to skateboard. This is a free park and a supposedly free country. Their quality of life increases in doing this, whereas before they may have been more homebound. The mission has not failed, but is alive and well. We are now a non-profit foundation and our mission continues to be one of teaching skateboarding while bridging relationships between typical individuals and those with special needs. Our mission also is one of welcoming people from different ethnicities and social-economic differences..brother.”
Brother man zeroed in on the end of his argument by repeating the danger inherent in skateboarding for the special needs community and that they should be barred from skating. I simply said that we can’t bar anyone from skateboarding. That is not going to happen. The skateboard school happens in the first half of the day when the more hard-core skaters are not around and the foundation is focused on giving back to the park by raising funds and supporting action to raise night lights that can illuminate the darkness so that skaters can use the skatepark longer as do the the people in the greater park area outside of the skate zone. The whole park of Scalzi has night lights except the skatepark. It is not right nor fair and the foundation has it in focus to bring about night lights. But nothing is easy, dude. Great things take time. You should join us. We need you. You should coach. You know I have called for you.”
“Regarding, Greenwich’s skate culture and plans for a new park: Where do you think the buzz and ideas to build a new concrete park came from?”
Brother man: “From you, Bill.”
Me: “Not from me, but from the operation. From all that has been done. I can see how what has been going on here has directly and indirectly influenced the call for Greenwich to not fall behind. I can see the impact we are having on Greenwich and the county. We have not failed, bro. Credit is not being directed at the foundation and that is fine. It is not about taking credit, but for us it is about bridging the typical and special needs individual relationships, and yes, bringing a diversity of people together through skateboarding. It’s a great thing.”
He finished off by calling me a ‘rebel.’ I told him I would take it as a compliment. We fist pumped each other and parted ways. I left the door open for his inclusion in the organization.
Nothing has been easy. But it has all been worth it. Individuals with special needs deserve the right and opportunity to skateboard if they so wish. This olympic sport raises their quality of life from the inside out. So what if they can’t do amazing tricks from the very beginning. No one could do that when they first started skateboarding. This is not a Coach Bill thing, nor do I want it to be like that. At every step of the way I have looked to make it a team effort, a community-wide effort and I continue to move in that way. In Westport, we have a girl with Down Syndrome skateboarding. She is awesome and is dropping in with assistance in just her second class. She loves it. In Stamford, we have a typical child working through some anger issues. The kid loves to skateboard and is doing a fantastic job in not giving up. His doting father brings him to the park constantly. If he keeps it up, he will be a dynamo skateboarder.
Instead of standing on the sidelines and looking to see if the mission will fail, all hands are needed on deck. Surely, we can be pessimistic about great endeavors. Brother man asked me if there are other growing leagues in the country like this. I told him that to my knowledge, we were the first in the country. This has never been done before. It is all new and we are on the ground floor here. Invest in us financial, sign up for classes or simply attend our first contest this summer, which hopefully the city of Stamford will allow to happen. Scalzi Park is the flagship skatepark in the region.
This summer the management team for Pier 62 skatepark on Manhattan’s Westside has allowed us to host a one day class event for typical individuals and those with special needs. We plan to do a short tour of skateparks in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Connecticut finishing off with the first contest at Scalzi.
We won’t give up. I won’t give up. The community and media is invited to cover our events. In fact, we hope you do and that the word spreads in the region that such an opportunity exists for the special needs community.