By TOM GODFREY
More and more disadvantaged or visible minority youths are flocking to indoor skateboard parks this winter, partially due to the soaring price of playing hockey and other sports, officials say.
The non-profit C.J. Skateboard Park and School in Etobicoke, is packed daily with youths from across the GTA who enjoy skateboarding or riding scooters. Many are from high-risk areas or community housing projects.
Jay Mandarino, who is owner and founder of the park, said the youths become empowered once they are taught to skateboard or ride a scooter.
Mandarino said it can cost about $150 for a skateboard or scooter and $5 hourly to skate at the massive Horner Ave. Park, which is the largest indoor skate park in Canada.
“We are seeing more minority kids, more Hispanics and guys from the Middle East picking up the sport,” he told Share. “They have one thing in common in that they love to skate or ride a scooter.”
The businessman said the facility, that is partially funded with his own money, has thousands of kids gliding on its floors weekly.
“Some kids love that this is an individual sport and not a team sport,” said Mandarino. “Not all families can afford the equipment or ice time that hockey requires.”
He himself became empowered and his life was turned around after he discovered skateboarding.
The park is noisy from skateboards pounding the wooden floors that lead to bursts of cheers from supporters. There is also a pro shop, meeting and snack areas serving soft drinks.
Mandarino said the park is the fourth-largest not-for-profit indoor skateboard park in the world. It is also frequented by at-risk youth and those with special needs.
Jaelin Cisneros, 15, said he took up skateboarding about 18 months ago and now “totally loves it.
“I started out skateboarding but now I love scooter riding better,” Cisneros told Share. “It is a faster and more challenging sport.”
He said the sport has helped him make friends and improve his self-esteem.
“I have made a lot of friends here,” said Cisneros. “We all share a love for the sport.”
On this day, more than 200 youths from across the GTA had gathered at the park to celebrate the life of popular scooter rider Tyler Bailey, 17, who was killed last July when he accidentally stumbled on the tracks of an oncoming train.
His friends were holding a memorial and fundraiser to help his family pay for a tombstone and cover funeral costs.
“I miss him so much every day,” said his grieving mother, Shelley Bailey. “He was a great kid who was passionate about scooter riding through which he made many friends.”
Tyler grew up in the Parkdale area and leaves behind an older brother and sister.
“We really appreciate that his friends would want to do something to remember him,” said his mother. “He was a great kid who was passionate about the sport.”
Wayne Beattie, 16, said he had to get a ride from a family member to travel from Burlington to Etobicoke for the fundraiser.
“If I had to walk here from Burlington then I would because I did not want to miss this,” he said. “He was a great teacher who always had time for everyone.”
Beattie said Tyler taught him and other youngsters tricks to get ahead in the sport.
Alex Pamintuan, a family friend, said Tyler had won a number of awards for scooter riding and had a job lined up as a coach.
“Everyone is heartbroken because he was very passionate about the sport,” he said. “He had many friends and coached most of the kids who come to the park.”
Donations to help Tyler’s family can be made to the TD Canada Trust Bank. The transit number is 03372. The institution number is 004 and account number is 6370616.