Category Archives: sports

Tackling where next to skate in Birmingham

jacob-bean-etching_resizeLocal skateboarders gathered at the site they’d developed under Red Mountain Expressway at Second Avenue North in March, known locally and on social media as the DIY Bridgespot, and were told it was time to move. Actually, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) insisted the skaters close down the site.

Why? One reason given was safety – something could come off a truck and fly off the expressway, fall through the 4-foot gap between the north and southbound lanes, and hurt someone. Another was the state agency not wanting anything under the overpasses. This reason confuses some as it appears to not apply everywhere in the city. For example, there is parking currently available under I-20/59 near the BJCC.

Thirty years ago a farmers market occupied the DIY site but shuttered in the 1980s, and it remained mostly unused until the skaters arrived last year.

ALDOT’s spokesperson recently explained in an interview with that moving the skateboarders (and the homeless) out of the area was necessary due to soil testing for the I-20/59 bridge replacement project – one that includes, interchange modifications at I-65 and 31st Street and upgrades to 11th Avenue North.

The Bridgespot’s short lifespan was not unusual; most DIY sites last no more than a year and a half. Skaters find a spot, start skating and making additions and improvements to a site, and the area evolves. One of the great things about the Bridgespot was the support the skaters received from their neighbors.

Peter Karvonen of Faith Skate Supply, located just two blocks west of the former DIY site, explained how the skaters had that support as well as the immediate community. Business owners and clientele would often stop by the store and donate money to support its development.

The Bridgespot gained some regional notoriety thanks to social media. Karvonen recalled meeting skaters from all over the state, as well as Nashville and Atlanta as they came to check out the site over the past several months..

The DIY site replaced another one, The Shoe Factory, located across from Railroad Park at 17th Street and 1st Ave. S. The owner of that property lived outside Birmingham and allowed local skaters to use it – with the caveat that it could be sold at any time. Once the city announces plans to move forward with Regions Field, the site was no more.

Skaters also lost a mini-skatepark located in Homewood’s Central Park in 2008. Complaints began rolling in about the space soon after a nearby condo construction project had been completed.  As comments on the piece demonstrate, much of the general public’s stereotyping of skateboarders as a bad influence likely had a lot to do with the complaints.

Supporters suggest a sanctioned skatepark project would continue to attract users from throughout the southeastern U.S. as the Bridgespot did as well as the residual economic impact of spending money at local businesses and contributing to the tax base. Patti Ferguson, a City Administrator in Armstrong, British Columbia, explained “It actually becomes a draw for your community if you have a good skatepark. Skaters want to come and try it. Never underestimate the power of a teenager to sway his or her parents’ travel plans!”

Skateboarding’s positive benefits

In Alabama, a state with one of the highest rates of obesity in the country, skateboarding is seen by some as a way to encourage activity in children and teens. Rather than sitting in the basement playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, they can go out and BE a skater. There are a variety of parks in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee that could serve as examples for Birmingham.

When referring to a planned skatepark and splash pad, Heavener, (Oklahoma) City Manager Mike Kennerson explained, “Not only will these promote a healthy lifestyle, it improves the recreational life for our youth, and it has the potential to have an economic-development impact on our community. This is to create opportunities for kids to do positive things.”

The Tony Hawk Foundation states skateboarding and skateparks “provide a place for kids who aren’t attracted to traditional team sports to express themselves in an individual and athletic manner. Getting kids, particularly at-risk kids, involved in a personal and esteem-building activity like skateboarding helps them build the confidence to do well in other aspects of their lives.”

And in Somerset, Ohio, Councilman David Snider concluded, “The whole skatepark experience has been a wonder to skaters and non-skaters alike. Senior citizens marvel at the athleticism and imaginations of the skaters, and skaters have a new respect for how a small-town village government can work if patience and fortitude are applied.”

Five years ago, the city began looking at the potential of a skatepark on city land. Working with Karvonen and the skateboarding community, discussions began about locations and park designers. The Tony Hawk Foundation expressed its support of a Birmingham skatepark in the 2008 letter to Langford. Those plans seemed to have disappeared when Langford left office.

Hawk shared his thoughts on the impact on skaters and the community in that letter to Langford:

“And when parks are built right – with local skater input and involvement throughout the process – those youngsters develop a sense of ownership and pride. The very existence of the park is the result of their hard work. They negotiate with civic and local business leaders, with each other on design elements, and with the community to find a suitable location. These previously disenfranchised skaters, who once ran from the police, find themselves working with the police and the city and community as a whole. It’s a transformational (sp) process for these young people.”

A skatepark also provides opportunities for a wide variety of special events as well as clinics for teaching kids how to skate. A current effort could provide a home base for clinics held by the A.Skate Foundation. The foundation was created to teach skateboarding to autistic kids as well as teach skateboarders about autism. In 2011, A.Skate was a Pepsi Refresh Project grant recipient for a skatepark.

What’s next?

So, what now? With no skatepark available in the immediate area, skateboarders are skating along sidewalks and on the streets or heading out to Battleground, an indoor skatepark and ministry near Bessemer. Unfortunately, Battleground is only open limited hours, with both free and pay to skate sessions.

Mark Leo, instructor at Jefferson State Community College, understands the need for a skatepark: “ I’ve been skateboarding for about 25 years. I feel the local skate community needs a skatepark because, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized how dangerous it really is to skate around the Birmingham metro area…the normal skateboarder encounters speeding cars and other hazards they normally wouldn’t in a sanctioned area.”

The City of Birmingham seems to be warming up to constructing a skatepark. There has been talk about using space at George Ward Park on Greensprings, as it would be easily accessible to visitors because of how close it is to an exit from I-65. As of press time, the idea of a skatepark in Birmingham is still in the preliminary planning stages.

The A.Skate Foundation, the skateboarding community, and Karvonen have been a part of the proposal and planning of a potential skatepark in Birmingham. Karvonen explained, “After ALDOT recently demolished the Bridgespot skate area, the city officials in Birmingham have responded to the desperate need for a skatepark and are proactively working with the skate community now to secure land for a skatepark within the park and rec system.”

Karvonen said the skatepark was to be an agenda item at the April meeting for the Glen Iris Neighborhood Association, but was absent. They have been assured it will appear on the May meeting agenda. The neighborhood association meets on the first Monday of the month.

“Thankfully the city officials in Birmingham are embracing the need for a public skatepark and working alongside us to see the facility become a reality hopefully in the very near future,” Karvonen added.

Supporters of the project know that it will not come cheaply; a quality skatepark can cost around $400,000. Quality is important. Concrete ramps provide stability and reduce maintenance costs as wood ramps are subject to rot and insects. Safety issues for both skaters and spectators also will need to be addressed.

Photo: courtesy of Faith Skate Supply.

Lopez reminisces about life Behind the Plate

Behind the Plate CoverJavy López looks forward to spending a couple of days in Birmingham this week, and not just because being back in town reminds him of the old days when he and the Greenville Braves were beating the Barons.

“We always did good against them, but there are a lot of Braves fans in Birmingham, no doubt,” the three-time All-Star catcher said, anticipating a visit to Regions Park to throw out the first pitch when the Barons host the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at 7:05 p.m. Thursday.

The last time he played Birmingham was 1992, which he remembers as a very good year. “We were sick of winning that season,” he said with a laugh by phone from his home in Suwanee, Ga.

“We finished 106-42, won the (Southern League) championship, and then I got called up to the big leagues and went straight to the World Series.”

López has detailed his meteoric rise from the minors in his new book, Behind the Plate: A Catcher’s View of Braves Dynasty. He’ll greet fans and sign copies at Books-A-Million in Brookwood Village at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 6. The autobiography, compiled from interviews he did with sports journalist and Braves historian Gary Caruso, was published in April by Triumph Books.

“The book is for my family, fans, and friends who have constantly been asking me to write it,” López said. “Even my kids pushed me to do this. Fans who wonder what it takes to get to the big leagues and what occurs behind the scenes can find out, and my family can read it and learn a lot of things about me they didn’t know. There are things in the book that I’ve never talked about before.”

Not, he added, that a reader has to be a baseball or Atlanta Braves fan to appreciate López’ story, which begins with how he learned to play baseball on a neighborhood basketball court in Puerto Rico and continues through a difficult language barrier and other struggles on his way to the major league record of 42 home runs in a season by a catcher. It also includes being named MVP of the 1996 National League Championship Series, playing on 11 of the Braves’ 14 straight division-winning teams, and how, after spending two seasons with the Orioles and Red Sox, he dealt with a failed comeback attempt with Atlanta four years ago.

“The book can teach anybody what it takes to get what they’re looking for in life,” he said. “It was hard for me to make it. I had to go through a lot of barriers and overcome a lot. It wasn’t easy to get to my goal, but what helped me get to it can help someone else get to theirs, whether they’re a baseball or Braves fan or not.”

López remains associated with the Braves organization and still has vivid memories of his first season on the roster. “When I got called up, (Atlanta) was already on fire. The Braves had gone from worst to first the season before, and everybody was pumped up. That’s what I came into as we were going into the World Series. Some guys play their whole careers and never make it to the playoffs. To go straight from the minors to the World Series was an amazing experience.”

So was catching Kent Mercker’s no-hitter against the Dodgers in 1994.

López wasn’t having a good day at the plate. Midway through the game, he was 0-4 and had struck out three times. “I was so furious because I was struggling offensively that I didn’t pay attention to what Kent was doing. It wasn’t until the seventh inning that I realized, ‘Wait a second. We’ve got something going on here.’

He had one more at bat, a fly ball for an easy out. “I didn’t even care any more. All I wanted at that point was to get that no-hitter done.”

López has filled his memoir with such stories and said that readers expecting accounts of contention and scandal are likely to be disappointed. “For some reason, people find controversy interesting, but this book is just good old baseball stories.”

So, about that Saban YouTube post…

Yes, we don’t normally just post something because, but it is Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban dancing… so, just because we can (until it comes down again…) NOTE: We’re thinking a lot of people are trying to watch this thing, so it may not play all the way through for now…

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Here we go a bowling…

We are aware that with college football bowl season upon us, many will see these games as their form of entertainment over the next month.

We figured we’d provide just a little more information for you as you decide just how you’ll spend that time in front of the television at home, at the bar, or at the stadium because you didn’t get us tickets to go along with you. We hope it helps…

The list begins after the jump (NOTE: all times listed are central):

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What to do when you’re in town waiting for a bowl game

As promised, we’ve started a list of things for folks visiting during this year’s Bowl to do when they’re not out tailgating and cheering on their respective teams.

Feel free to add on (we’re hoping that you do):

There’s also some great food options too (especially since you love barbecue) – Full Moon, Dreamland, Golden Rule and Jim n Nick’s are the “big names” but there are others. You can head on over to to get some more information about what options exist.

WorkPlay hosts College Football Saturdays in the theater

WorkPlay College Saturdays

Photo credit: André Natta

SEC fans now have one more option to consider when figuring out where they’re going to watch a game as WorkPlay now hosts College Football Saturdays in the theater. The image above is from last week’s event as Alabama fans enjoy the view from the venue’s 25′ screen with HD projector and digital sound.

The seats in WorkPlay Stadium even include an Astroturf playing field and goalposts. Food will be on sale from OT’s Sports Grill. Doors open at 1 p.m., with the game beginning at 2 p.m. as #1 LSU plays at #17 Kentucky.

Cowboy Mouth will perform later tomorrow evening. Next week promises to be fun as well, with Alabama vs. Tennessee or Florida vs. Kentucky.