The kids skating, biking, and scootering during Saturday’s Second Annual Soldotna Bike and Skate Challenge were stereotypical, to a point: shaggy hair, piercings, tight jeans, tattoos.
But while these aesthetic choices are often associated with troublemakers, ne’er-do-wells, and good-for-nothings, that correlation — at least in the case of Soldotna’s burgeoning extreme sports community — could not be farther from the truth.
A couple years ago, Mayor Peter Micciche struck a deal with merchants who had complained about loitering, disrespectful kids: help invest in local youth activities in exchange for the kids’ promise to behave themselves. And thus, the Bike and Skate Challenge was born.
“As we’ve invested in these kids and this event, we’ve seen a turnaround,” Micciche said. “I talked to a couple of the merchants at the mall yesterday and asked them if they’d seen a change, and there hadn’t been a single respect incident over there in the last year.
“When they sense that we care about them and that we’re investing in them, they have returned what we requested.”
Micciche spearheaded the skate park renovation initiative when he perceived a yawning gap between the city’s level of support for traditional sports versus more non-traditional ones.
“We spend an awful lot of money supporting football, baseball, basketball, and wrestling,” he explained, “but there are a lot of kids that do different things that don’t fit those molds.”
One of those kids is Rhoads Warner, a skateboarder who took second place in the beginner/intermediate skate class on Saturday. Warner, 14, has been participating in meetings organized by Micciche to facilitate communication between the extreme sports community and the city.
“It’s hard to get attention for everybody other than getting kicked out of places,” Warner said of garnering support for his peers. “I think it’s very nice that they’ve given up their time to do this for us, and I appreciate it.”
Shannon Evans, who was the only girl to participate in the whole competition, echoed that appreciation. She thinks that events like the Soldotna Bike and Skate Challenge definitely give the sport a better reputation in the community.
“I think it’s great that they are getting more involved,” Evans, 15, said of the event supporters, “because it shows that they actually care.”
Two of the biggest advocates championing the skate park cause are Krista and Shawn Schooley. Their 16-year-old son Jacob rides both scooters and BMX bikes, and is also a downhill mountain biker like his dad.
The Schooleys help organize events like the Bike and Skate Challenge, clean up the park, and barbecue for the kids every two weeks. They founded an unofficial club called the Tribe, which seeks to connect extreme sports enthusiasts throughout the state in addition to obtaining more park equipment and putting on more competitions. The Schooleys have already begun work on making the Tribe a non-profit entity, and Krista said she thinks it will be official within several months.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Shawn. “It’s all about giving them a healthy outlet to pursue their passion and things they like to do. It helps keep them out of trouble. There was not a whole lot to do up here before this all started.
“There are lots of school sports, but for people who are into action sports — extreme sports — there hasn’t been a whole lot of that until now.”
Other event supporters included Andrew Carmichael of the Parks and Recreation department, city engineer Kyle Kornelis, various city council members, and Police Chief John Lucking.
The city is set to appropriate $15,000 for more skate park equipment — including a pump track, BMX dirt trail, and “spine” — at the next city council meeting.