Mahatma Gandhi said of the process of change: First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.

For many years, sports in Charlottesville consisted of basketball, football, baseball, tennis and soccer. The notion of a sport without a ball was unthinkable. Then in 1989, for one reason or another, a group of Cville youths became obsessed with skateboarding.

With no place to advance their skills, the public spaces, which included the downtown walkways, schoolyards, libraries and other public spots with concrete surfaces and rails, were very enticing for these sportsmen. Dodging skateboarders made it difficult to maneuver public walkways, so citizens became annoyed and even outraged. Yet, according to officials, only a few people were doing the complaining.

Mayor David Toscano tried to see from everyone’s point of view. When the city threatened to arrest children skateboarding in public places, youth-filled entourages began petitioning Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors for a place of their own. Teens gathered thousands of signatures on a petition. But the politicians remained unmoved. Had city officials built a park in 1965 when it was originally proposed, this problem would not exist.

Reporter Bryan McKenzie of The Daily Progress took up the cause defending the boys in print while the police called them ‘public nuisances.’ Skateboarders were believed to be degenerates, drug dealers and delinquents. Public officials privately waited for these ‘teens to grow up, go away and become boring adults’ and the problem would be gone. But the problem would not go away.

More youths took up the sport. To keep the boys from being arrested, some parents built half-pipes in their backyards. This presented another problem: intolerable noise for neighbors who had to listen to the drone of wheels on wood day and night.  

For several years, there was a constant battle between teens who enjoyed their sport, were having fun and the people who were annoyed by their being different- dress, hair, shoes, individual sporting (rather than team) and unlimited energy! There seemed only one solution: to begin the process of building a public skateboard/bike park for youths.

The wheels of government move at a snail’s pace when introducing a new concept much less a new sport. There is much to do to prepare. How to convince adults to build a park? Where is the best location? What form will it take? What materials are best?

There is often only one route to convincing adults to change- directing their attention to money- tax money. Although Darden Towe Park may have been considered first, the tennis courts across from McIntire Park were an obvious choice. After one year of counting tennis players on the courts, it was determined these underutilized tennis courts were wasting tax dollars. There needed to be a better alternative.

Next, national skateboard magazine patrons were solicited to design the ideal park. It turned out there are many types- street, ramp, concrete. The majority of local boys preferred a combination of wood, ramp and street. But the key to wood parks is finding wood that does not splinter, warp, weather and crack but is specially treated for outdoor use.  Only a few companies produced such wood.

As the interested group traveled around the country investigating skate parks, it was clear that although concrete parks were virtually maintenance free, over time, they became concrete jungles from lack of use by patrons for reasons such as wear and tear of tire treads, high injury rates and increased minor injuries like scraping and bruising. After all research was conducted and compiled, a clearer picture of what the boys had envisioned became a reality.

And still, officials were unconvinced.

What did it take to build the park? Some relentless individuals began building ramps and putting them on the tennis courts during evening hours. Time after time, the city removed the ramps only to find that there appeared new ones the next morning. The threshold was reached. The park was built. Unfortunately, as the wheels of politics and progress move slowly towards novelty, out-of-the-box and unconventional concepts, the park was built long after the teens left home for college. The entire process, from start to finish took years. The park was completed in 2000.

Humans are strange creatures when it comes to change. We fight to defend our personal beliefs and truths even when reality is showing us otherwise.

Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Area resident Daria Brezinski was a leader in the effort during 1989-2000 to build a permanent skate park along Charlottesville’s McIntire Road.  Earlier this year the skate park was relocated, in a temporary fashion, to the eastern portion of McIntire Park in order to make way for the Meadow Creek Parkway interchange with the U.S. 250 Bypass.  Charlottesville plans to engage a skate park designer to develop a long-term plan for the skate park’s next incarnation.  Brezinski says she hopes the planners remember the thoughtful design decisions that went into the skateboarders’ first home.