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Skateboarders carve a niche

Steve Bumgarner stands on the stairs of the Land O'Lakes branch library and points to the dings, cracks and strips of worn metal where skateboards have left their mark.

"In a lot of ways this is a pretty good place for them," the library branch manager says with resignation.

The library and the skateboarders have negotiated an uneasy peace over the years. The teens generally don't get chased away _ as they do in countless other spots _ so long as they only come around when the library is closed.

"Skateboarders get a bad reputation, but they just want to entertain themselves," Bumgarner said. "And they don't have a place to do it."

That's about to change.

As the community plans to expand its football, soccer and baseball fields in the newly purchased 40-acre parcel east of the Land O'Lakes Recreational Complex, there also are plans to build on that property the first skateboard park in central Pasco.

The central Pasco group that will help decide what can fit on the 40-acre parcel includes representatives from the baseball, football and soccer associations. But the group also includes a couple of softspoken teenagers _ skateboarders who hope that if they go to enough meetings and politely answer enough questions, they will have a spot of their own to grind, ollie and risk abrasions and contusions to their hearts content.

"It's not that bad," said skateboarder Dustin Rennoldson, 15, speaking of the meetings where he is often one of the only nonadults. "If we get a skate park out of it, it's definitely worth it."

Right now, skateboarders in Land O'Lakes do what skateboarders have always done. They improvise.

They grind on railings and curbs. They launch themselves off picnic tables and ramps at improbable and inadvisable angles. When things go well, they appear to be intent on breaking their necks, and their boards land with an alarmingly percussive THWACK!

As often as not, they get chased off.

Dustin and his friends have been chased from the loading dock of a supermarket, a school, a golf course and the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex. Of course, it is part of the subculture to be outside the mainstream, and making adults nervous and getting chased is all a part of the package. But it also gets in the way of the business at hand: skateboarding.

Dustin and a couple of friends were skating at the library and were asked to leave. They headed over to the adjacent recreation complex near the soccer fields, until they got shooed off from there as well.

"I saw them leave the library, then I saw them go over by the soccer fields and they were getting chased from there, too," said AmyeCox, chairwoman of the Central Pasco Sports Coalition. "They had nowhere to skateboard, so I went over to talk with them."

It was Cox's job to bring together as many sports and recreation groups as possible to help decide how best to use the new 40-acre parcel. She invited Dustin and his friends to join the coalition.

They call themselves the Skateboard Association. But really it's Dustin and occasionally one of his friends. Their goal is to represent the interests of other kids who love skateboarding.

Dustin is a softspoken freshman at Land O'Lakes High with an affinity for Etnies T-shirts (Etnies is footwear popular among skateboarders) and loud music. He plays the drums.

Both of Dustin's parents have bumper stickers that read: "My kid skateboards better than your honor student."

The skateboarders have a good deal of support from the adults.

"They deserve to have a darn skateboard park," said Jim Slaughter, Pasco County's director of parks and recreation. "Their sport is just as valid as kicking a soccer ball or hitting a baseball or throwing a football."

Slaughter said $150,000 already has been set aside specifically for the skateboard part of the expansion project. Tentatively, the plan calls for the skateboard area to replace the outdoor basketball courts between the pool and the tennis courts. The basketball courts will be moved.

"Oh, it's going to happen," Slaughter said. "It seems we always accommodate the core sports. But what about the skateboarders?"

Dustin's mother, Amy Rennoldson, is thrilled to see her son get involved in the community project. She drives him to the meetings and let's him do the rest.

"I would stick around if he wanted me to," Rennoldson said. "But they don't need to hear from me. They need to hear from the kids who are going to benefit.

"For the most part, everywhere they go there are signs: "No skateboarders.' It will be great for them to have a place where they won't get chased away."

_ Stephen Hegarty covers central Pasco news. He can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is hegartysptimes.com.

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