Skateboarders unhappy with restrictions

By Tucker Ziegler, Round Table Reporter

In the agenda distributed to every student at the beginning of the school year, under the section marked “Skateboarding and Rollerblading,” Middletown High School proclaims it illegal to ride a skateboard on school property. For many students, it is just another school policy, something that will never affect them. But for the skateboarding community of Middletown, it adds salt to the wound.

The first infliction was in 2001. Thirteen years ago, the town of Middletown created an ordinance forbidding the use of a skateboard on several roads, including Main Street, Route 17, Middletown Parkway and other connector roads. The ordinance also restricts skateboarding in public parks and parking lots. To restrain them further, the school has joined in with the movement.

There are specific reasons for these policies, said John Miller, the Burgess of Middletown and MHS social studies teacher. “The biggest reason is, of course, safety. And the other is something we call the nuisance factor,” he said.

Safety played a large role the in the local government’s decision in 2001. Miller said, “Some of the roads here have shoulders that are just not wide enough.” Roads in Middletown, such as Route 17, have little or no shoulder. To widen the roads, some do not have sidewalks, causing skateboarders to ride down the middle of the street.

Nowhere in the ordinance is riding a bicycle discussed. Miller said that the speed of skateboarding is greater than the speed of a bicycle. Greater speed results in greater risk. Miller added that the local government sees skateboarding as “a hobby, and in some cases a sport,” while bicycling is seen as a mode of transportation.

The other reason is the “nuisance factor”. Before the ordinance was created, the town had a problem with trespassing. Main Street is a perfect example. The sidewalks on Main Street are generally wide and lead directly to the porches of businesses, churches and privately owned homes. Seeing an opportunity, skateboarders would ride up on the porches and perform jumps. This caused a variety of problems. One, if the skateboarders did not have permission, they were trespassing. Two, churchgoers and customers of businesses come in and out of the buildings all the time. If skateboarders were on the porch at the same time, it could be hazardous. And three, no matter the skill of the skateboarder, jumping off porches is dangerous, which relates back to the safety reasons for the law.

On an opposing side, Mark Guglielmini, a senior transfer student from Tuscarora High School who has skateboarded since he was little, saw some injustice. The policies of skateboarding in Frederick are different than those in Middletown. Upon learning the policy, Guglielmini said, “It’s messed up.” He responded to its explanation with, “[The policy] makes me feel mad. We aren’t hurting anything, really.”

There is a second part to Middletown’s skateboarding policy. In this section, the consequences of not abiding are listed. On a first offense, the violator receives a “warning to cease the unlawful activity and/or pay a $50 fine.” The second offense raises the fine to $100. In addition, the skateboard is confiscated and is returned seven days after the violation.

“There was a regular record [of confiscated skateboards]” in 2001, Miller said. But since 2001, the amount of offenses has decreased. Even so, cases still occur. Adam Pritchard, an avid Middletown skateboarder, has encountered one such experience. Recently, Pritchard said, he and some other skateboarders were outside of Subway when they were confronted about their skateboards. “We were standing outside and I just had my skateboard in my hands,” Pritchard said. He said he was not using it; nevertheless, he said, he was still fined $50 and another member of his group had his skateboard confiscated.

“We can get kind of loud around peoples’ houses,” Pritchard said, “but for the most part we are pretty controlled.” He does not feel like a nuisance to Middletown, but Pritchard finds himself with a dilemma. As with most Middletown skateboarders, Pritchard still rides in Middletown. There is no other place to go within reason. The skateboarders could drive into Frederick to one of the skate parks, but the convenient option of riding around outside their house is tempting.

Guglielmini compares his experience in Frederick to Middletown. “There, it was relaxing to ride. Here, it’s still fun, but [the ordinance] is still in the back of your mind.” Guglielmini has also found a loophole in the system. There is a new popular style of skateboarding, called longboarding. He views longboarding differently than skateboarding. Guglielmini and Pritchard both view skateboarding as a hobby; Guglielmini sees longboarding as a means of transportation. From where he lived in Frederick, he could longboard to THS. Pritchard, however, disagrees. A traditional skateboarder, Pritchard interprets longboarding as a rival to skateboarding. “Longboarding isn’t true skateboarding,” he said.

Some skateboarders have taken action. Proposing that longboarding is a mode of transportation, skateboarders are making their voices heard. Miller said that their requests were being viewed and that a change, while it may not be soon, is a possibility. Until then, longboarding is still illegal in Middletown, seen as a style of skateboarding.

Skateboarders in Middletown say they are judged harshly. One local skateboarder described his hobby as an orange convict suit. When he rides, he said, the whole town looks down on him and sees a criminal. It is a hard hobby to maintain, the skateboarders feel, and the new school policy only makes it tougher.