Building the Foundation
Tracy Kitts, 50, lived in Washington County in Western Pennsylvania during the mid-70’s. There wasn’t much to skate around there so he often made the drive to Athens for its “pretty crappy ramps” located on the handball courts behind the rec center.
When he arrived for college in 1982, he remembers seeing some skaters but wondered what happened to them: “I remember being on campus and I didn’t meet other skateboarders at all.” Tracy skated everywhere: on campus, to class, back to his home. At that time, he didn’t have any run-ins with the police because skateboarding wasn’t popular yet.
By his senior year in 1986, though, something had changed. “We were getting busted by cops on the street all the time. I think I was on a first name basis with all of the cops in Athens.” That was when Tracy started meeting other skateboarders.
Johnny Clift, 40, had just about the same story to tell about when he started skating around Athens in 1985.
“Everyone at that time seemed to be against skateboarding, the city was against us, the campus police were against us,” he said. “Everyday I would give a fake name to the campus police.” Names like Tony Hawk, Natas Kaupus, Rob Roskopp or other pro skateboarders would be Johnny’s alias for that day. “
Craig Dransfield was also in that crew and recalled that, ”After a certain point they knew all of our names, we couldn’t tell them our names were Tony Hawk anymore…After several boards were taken…”
They didn’t have anywhere to go
Even Maxine Rantane, the current owner of Cycle Path bike shop on Union St., acknowledged that back then skateboarders didn’t have a place they could go. She knew there was a skate scene starting in Athens and wanted something else to augment the bike shop, which was called Rainbow Racing from ‘84-‘87. She didn’t skate, but she started selling boards, trucks, wheels and other accessories for the skaters.
“There was no skate park, there wasn’t really a place to skate,” she said. “We really enjoyed the kids who came in and were involved in it. It was ridiculous, we would talk to people, they’re not hoodlums, they’re not skating to be bad kids. It was because they were skating down rails and jumping over things. People didn’t understand it.”
Soon after the addition, Tracy Kitts went by the shop and saw boards in the window. He knew they were selling boards but that they didn’t exactly know what skateboarders wanted to buy. He went in the shop and offered to start ordering and keep inventory for the shop.
“It really took off because of Tracy,” said Maxine.
Not long after Tracy offered to help out at the shop, he created the Rainbow Racing skate team. “Rainbow racing skate team was the shit,” said Pat Griska, who still lives in Athens.
By Tracy’s junior year in 1985, the club grew to almost 40 people. “We were trying to get the city to allow us to put in a crappy half pipe or a ramp or anything that we could skate on public and city property and they wouldn’t have any of it,” he said.
Johnny Clift remembers they would build ramps and then the city would tear them down because of litter. “We would just build it and leave it there. Mostly in the summertime everyone from the pool would come over and watch us skate so they would litter all over the place and then the city would take our ramps away because of the litter.”
Skating on the street in Athens was prevalent and everyone that I talked to had a list of spots they would always skate, but the real draw that kept the skaters involved were the ramps in their backyards. There is a long list of mini ramps and half pipes in the Athens area that everyone skated.
When Pat Griska was 16 years old, he built an 8-foot half pipe in his backyard, and it was the biggest half pipe in three counties for some time. “Kids from everywhere came to skate. You don’t really realize how many friends you’re going to have until you build a half pipe…People came from West Virginia and Ohio.”
Lobbying for a Change
Later in the year, Tracy was given ramps by a friend and didn’t have anywhere to put them. He contacted the rec center director, Kevin Schwartzhoff, and the city took the ramps and set up a little wooden ramp skate park on the handball courts. “I remember calling Kevin, his office overlooked them, and asking him, ‘What’s your most used outdoor facility?’ and he would be like, ‘Those damn ramps you gave me!’ and I was like, 'We should do something more!’”
The entire skating community in Athens wanted something more. Every dedicated skater attended the city council meetings and voiced their opinions to have a skate park built. “It wasn’t quite that easy, there was lots of fundraising, a lot of us put our own money into it,” Tracy said.
On May 15, 2004, after over five years of tireless work, the skaters finally had their place. According to The Post, the 17,000-foot park cost roughly $340,000, and received donations from a number of entities including Ohio University, The City of Athens, The O’Bleness Foundation and The Tony Hawk Foundation.
Once finished, Tracy and the skateboarding community crowded the park nonstop. “It sort of started another heyday in Athens. I hadn’t skated vert in years. After the park opened we were there everyday… everyday! Even in my 40’s I was getting tricks back that I haven’t done for years,” Tracy said.
They also understood the new responsibilities that maintaining the park required. “We all took ownership of it. We would be out there sweeping, cleaning and fixing it.”
Tracy knew that the people who weren’t a part of creating the park wouldn’t understand the time and effort it took. “It kind of hurts me now when I go back there it’s not being kept up to the level that the first crew did,” he said. “Everybody that is now at the park, it’s always been there for them, but we were all peeing our pants when it was being built.”