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Skateboarding as a high school sport?

Post by Eric Williams on June 6, 2007 at 9:55 am with No Comments »
June 6, 2007 9:55 am

Here’s an interesting story from the New York Times about skateboarding becoming a high school sport in California.


By MATT HIGGINS

New York Times News Service

After months of wooing sponsors, and drafting bylaws and articles of incorporation, all Jeff Stern needed to create the first high school skateboard league was teenage skaters to get onboard and compete.

He called their cell phones, but they never returned messages. Then someone suggested he try sending text messages, and the skaters replied immediately.

By modifying his approach to teenagers, skateboarding and interscholastic athletics, Stern has started the California High School Skateboard Club, a league of teams from seven schools in the Los Angeles area that began competing in April. The season concludes Saturday.

Still, it was not easy persuading skaters to compete in a team format, especially for their high schools. Stern, a 38-year-old law student and father of three, had to overcome several obstacles, including skaters’ longstanding anti-establishment attitudes. The fact that he pulled it off has been a wonder to many of those involved.

"At first I thought Jeff was going to be fighting an uphill battle with the principals, the school districts, and the skaters themselves," said Steve Badillo, a professional skateboarder and the league’s head judge. "I thought skateboarders might not embrace the idea as much as they did."

But they have, which suggests that as skateboarding has grown more mainstream, participants are willing to adopt elements of organized sports that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Miki Vuckovich is executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, an organization that helps finance public skate parks in low-income communities. He was an adviser to Stern in setting up the league.

"There is a contingent of skaters that aren’t averse to representing their school, that aren’t averse to competition," Vuckovich said.

Skaters cited several reasons for participating.

"I’m in it for the exposure," said Kristos Augustus, 16, the team captain for Santa Monica High School, which is in first place after three events. "I know a lot of guys who want to win the prizes, and some don’t even know the prizes."

The top prize — the most valuable skater will receive two pairs of Nike sneakers a month for a year — has been a major incentive.

"That spoke directly to the kids," Stern said. "They were like, `Nike?’ Their eyes opened up. That got them motivated."

During 18 months spent organizing the league, Stern learned a lot about communicating with skaters.

Like any good aspiring lawyer, he compiled a 50-page book with the organization’s bylaws and articles of incorporation. Sponsors were impressed, but upon showing it to prospective skaters, Stern said, "They’re looking at that like, `Who are you and what are you doing to us?"’

As a result, he has de-emphasized the league’s organizational aspects and rules, effectively handing over much of the responsibility for running the competitions to the skaters.

None of the teams have a coach. Instead they are run by team captains. And although there are designated practices, they are optional. This approach has seemed to make all the difference.

Kevin Imamura, marketing manager for Nike Skateboarding, said Nike chose to back the league, in part, because its structure hews to skateboarding tradition.

"It becomes less about being a team and more about being a crew or a group of friends," Imamura said.

And the skaters have described a strong sense of camaraderie at competitions.

"The cool thing about skaters, even with all the other teams, it’s not really competitive," said Corey Philips, a senior and team captain for Westlake High School. "It’s all about socializing."

Still, there was skepticism when he approached his fellow skaters to join.

"It’s for sure been hard because skateboarding has never been a team sport," Philips said. "People were like, `Skateboarding teams! What the heck?"’

Stern hatched the idea two years ago after he began taking his son to a skate park. He wanted to combat the stigma that skateboarding is somehow an unseemly activity. He saw an opportunity for team competition, and began researching how to create a league at the high school level.

School districts refused to provide sanction or financial support because of concerns about liability, but otherwise gave their blessing, so the California High School Skateboard Club has been organized as a nonprofit and run like other club-level sports. Each time is composed of five skaters, and competitions are held at Skatelab in Simi Valley.

Despite its somewhat marginalized status, Stern and some of the skaters hope the league can lead to bigger things.

For Stern, running it counts as a law school internship and could dovetail nicely with a career as a sports agent after he graduates from Ventura College of Law in December.

Meanwhile, the skaters have a forum to showcase their skills to potential sponsors. Badillo has attracted other professionals and team managers from prominent skateboard companies to help judge competitions.

"These kids are just ripping high school kids with no platform or voice to be heard by the industry," Badillo said. "This provides the industry a place to see these local high school kids and what they can do."

Augustus, of Santa Monica, said perhaps that the league would prevent some skaters from dropping out of school to pursue a professional skateboarding career. He even envisioned a day when skaters could earn college scholarships, like athletes in other team sports.

"I’d like skating to be like that," Augustus said. "It seems pretty far-fetched right now."

Sort of like skateboarding as a team sport not all that long ago.

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