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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: May 18, 2009
Byline: Kathy Boccella


Abington skate park will memorialize teen

The Kerrs waited seven years for this day. The skate park that their son Patrick raised $5,000 in seed money for was buzzing with a swarm of edgy middle schoolers, boards ready to fly.

They had come to see Andy Macdonald, one of the world's top professional skateboarders. As the eight-time X Games gold medalist swooped effortlessly over the smooth concrete during an exhibition Thursday, only a few kids had the nerve to skate alongside.

Patrick would have been one of them.

The Abington teen never lived to see the park that is named in his honor and that his parents hope will open in July in the Roslyn section of the township. He was fatally injured at 15 in June 2002, when he was skating on a curb on Jenkintown Road and fell under the wheels of a passing tractor-trailer.

He and his brother, Brendan, had been on their way to a skateboard shop.

"He would be so happy that his friends and younger kids coming up have a place to go," said his mother, Liz, who has worked tirelessly to raise nearly half the $100,000 for the park.

About $10,000 more is needed to install a fence, a section of concrete, and a brick path. Organizers are selling engraved bricks for $100. Until it is finished, the 90,000-square-foot park is officially off-limits to skaters, who sneak in anyway.

Patrick and his pals rode wherever they could: at the Fox Chase train station, behind a Wawa store, in LOVE Park when that was allowed.

And the street.

Liz, a heart-transplant nurse at Temple University Hospital, doesn't like to think how the arc of her son's life might have been different had he had a park to skate in close to home.

"If kids weren't on the streets, then kids wouldn't get hit by vehicles. That's just a fact," she said.

Dedicated prodigy

Patrick was 10 and a natural athlete when he took up skateboarding in the late 1990s and dropped every other sport.

"It was different, new, something that not everybody in the neighborhood was doing," said his father, Pearse. "He really took to it."

He and his brother went to Roman Catholic High School so they could be close to LOVE Park, also known as JFK Plaza, a skateboarding mecca that has since been closed to the sport. "It was their life," said Pearse, an electrician. Brendan, now 23, is also an electrician. The Kerrs also have a daughter, Dana, 27.

In the summers, Liz volunteered as a nurse at Camp Woodward, a premier skate camp near State College, Pa., so the brothers could attend free.

At home, "it was strictly street skating," said Justin Crean, 22, a friend of Patrick's.

The friends also took the train to LOVE Park. Kerr didn't worry about her boys skating in the city.

"It was the safest spot they could be," she said. "They made a lot of nice friends."

A straight-A student, Patrick "was really funny, a great guy," Crean said.

When the city closed LOVE Park to skaters, Patrick joined other devotees and some unexpected allies, such as city planner Edmund Bacon, to try to keep it open.

When that failed, he put his energies into starting a park in Abington.

He got permission to set up a fund-raising booth at the X Games in Philadelphia, selling chances on skate gear donated by sympathetic pros.

In April 2002, Patrick presented a $5,000 check to the township. He was killed five weeks later. As they sat by his hospital bed, his parents decided they would fulfill his dream.

"It was the very least I can do," Liz said. "He was such a good kid and such a generous kid. We thought, 'This can't be it for him. This is a child who had such spirit and generosity, it can't be over now.' "

They also knew it was the only way their grieving family could survive. So with the help of friends from Roman, the local Irish community, and relatives in Ireland, where Pearse was raised, they threw themselves into raising money for the park and for the first college scholarship designed exclusively for skateboarders.

The group collected $35,000 for the park (the township kicked in another $35,000, and the rest came from other donors) and has given away $50,000 in college scholarships. It also funds two scholarships to Roman. "People have been really kind and helpful to us," Liz said.

Almost everybody.

A park with personality

It took years to find a place to put the park, but once the township settled on an abandoned playground at Hall Avenue and Anzac Road, some neighbors weren't too happy.

Patrick and his friends tipped the project in their favor.

"Normally, people who are against something have louder voices, but the people who were for it were very vocal about the need for having a park," said Doug Wendell, director of parks and recreation.

Still, the park wasn't approved until April 2008; ground was broken in June.

On many weekends, a group of 60 to 80 skaters helped pour concrete for the bowls and ledges that would one day be their own, and someone's parent would fire up a grill and cook hamburgers and hot dogs.

"The kids that helped were phenomenal. Patrick . . . would have been a major player and standing right next to everyone else. He was a phenomenal kid," Wendell said.

The park features two large pools, a center fountain, a brick bank, pyramids with a grind box on top, and granite and marble ledges.

"It's not a cookie-cutter park at all," said Patrick Boder, 38, one of the designers.

In one corner is a ledge inscribed "In memory of Patrick Kerr." On top is a battered curb that looks like it came straight from a parking lot.

"We like to incorporate curbing wherever we can," said Macdonald, who was touring to talk to kids about education, goal-setting, and staying drug-free.

As Macdonald zipped off, weaving in and out of concrete openings on a sliver of wood, the Kerrs said they would be relieved when the park finally opened.

Watching the middle schoolers champing at the bit to take a spin, Pearse thought about how much his own boys loved skating.

"It was something to see them," he said.

Now he looks forward to coming here from time to time to watch the next generation.

Liz plans to stay involved, too, if only to be close to her youngest son.

"I'll feel like he's here," she said. "This is his park."

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