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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: July 24, 2003
Byline: Leslie A. Pappas


Skater's legacy: Reward hard work with college

skateboarder
MICHAEL PEREZ / Inquirer
Hector Gonzalez, 18, who got a skate park built in Philadelphia, won a $5,000 scholarship from a fund that honors Patrick Kerr of Abington. Kerr, 15, was killed in 2002.
Patrick Kerr lived and died on his skateboard. At his funeral, friends brought a chunk of granite from LOVE Park, so he could be buried with it under his feet.

Now this Abington boy's passion for flying through the air on a sliver of wood lives on in what is believed to be the nation's first college scholarship designed exclusively for skateboarders.

"We thought, this is the only thing we can do," said his mother, Liz Kerr. "If he can't go to college, some other kid is going to go."

She and Ingrid Valey, the mother of another skateboarder, created the scholarship when they found that none like it existed.

Patrick, 15, an honor student at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, skated whenever he could at LOVE Park, a skateboarding mecca that has since been closed to the sport. Patrick died in June 2002 when he was skating up a curb in Jenkintown and fell into the wheels of a passing tractor-trailer. He and his brother, Brendan, were on their way to a skateboard shop to buy a new set of wheels.

But Patrick didn't just ride the board: He promoted the sport and raised money to get a skate park in his township.

The new scholarship fund rewards similar dedication and activism. From 250 applicants in 43 states, winners were chosen based on their answer to this essay question: How has skateboarding been a positive influence in your life?

Athletic skill didn't matter, but leadership, character and academics did. Financial need weighed heavily.

Earlier this month, Hector Gonzalez, an 18-year-old from the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia, won the top scholarship, $5,000. Three other skateboarders — from Raleigh, N.C.; Moscow, Idaho; and Waldport, Ore. — received $1,000 scholarships each. Six finalists were given "back-to-school" packages with skateboarding gear.

Gonzalez built his own ramps and persuaded the city to build a skate park across the street from his house. It took six years. Gonzalez said the experience had taught him an invaluable lesson.

"If you want something and work hard, things can be accomplished," he wrote in his essay. "I hope to use this experience in college, as an example of not giving up on my dreams."

All the scholarship winners are activists who worked to get a public skate park built in their communities. They circulated petitions, raised money, or went to city hall to fight for their cause.

Industry insiders say that's typical of the passion of skateboarders across the country — and that's why a college scholarship for skateboarders makes sense.

"They have a dream, they see something that's needed, and they go after it," said Gary Ream, director of the Woodward Camp, a specialty sports camp in Woodward, Centre County, Pa. Ream, who is on the scholarship board, was one of the contest judges.

Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, said extreme sports such as skateboarding attract what he calls it the "Type T Personality" — risk-takers who have a lot of energy, like challenges, and are very curious. In short, good college material.

"Offering scholarships there makes an awful lot of sense," he said. Action sports like skateboarding "tend to attract kids with a very inventive frame of mind. Don't we want to reward that?"

The annual scholarship is funded by private donations and corporate sponsors, including Activision Inc., Hurley and Mountain Dew, among others. Smaller skateboard shops and Web sites donated advertising or services.

The board of trustees includes former Philadelphia city planner Edmund Bacon; professional skateboarders such as Ricky Oyola and Tony Hawk; Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Seamus McCaffery, and Gov. Rendell.

The judges rewarded Gonzalez for his resourceful approach to getting a skate park in his neighborhood.

Using Plexiglas and donated lumber, he and a friend, Chris Coulton, built makeshift ramps and obstacles and carried them daily to an old tennis court at the Carmella DiTizio Playground, the park across the street from Gonzalez's house.

"It was rickety-rackety stuff," said Joe Walton, park supervisor. Walton agreed to let the skateboarders use the court, so long as they kept it clean and safe.

"Over the years, we just kept building bigger ramps," Gonzalez said. The skateboarders eventually expanded onto the larger hockey court.

Last year, after watching the park grow in size and popularity, the city decided to give its official blessing, replacing the homemade ramps with real equipment and making Whitehall Playground Skatepark an official part of the park.

Gonzalez, who has been skateboarding since he was 12, said the sport has taught him about hard work and accomplishment. It also has made him look at the world differently — flights of stairs, concrete barriers, or pebbles look different to him than to other people, he said. "It gives me a creative mind."

Had Patrick lived to attend college, his mother said, he would have studied business management. He wanted to open his own skateboard shop.

Gonzalez plans to use the scholarship to study graphic design at the Community College of Philadelphia. With the scholarship, he said, he'll be able to study full time and work a part-time job. Besides, Gonzalez said, "I'll still be able to skate."

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