When Ben Meyerson heads off to college this fall, he'll bring along the love and support of his family and some extra money to help pay his tuition, courtesy of the Oak Park-River Forest Hockey Club's Bolin/Cooper scholarship and the Patrick Kerr Skateboard Scholarship.
Skateboard scholarship? Technically, it's for a skateboarder who's demonstrated "community activism" in support of skateboarding, says Ben. His mom, Pam, was as surprised as anyone to discover it existed. She found it on the Internet, through a scholarship search engine linked to an Oak Park and River Forest High School website.
The national scholarship was established by Lynn Kerr a few years ago as a memorial for her son Patrick, a 15-year-old honor student and skateboarder who lobbied hard for public skate parks in Philadelphia, Pa. He was killed, his mom told Pam, when he fell off his board into the path of a tractor/trailer truck.
It was a natural fit for Ben, who began skateboarding with friends the summer after sixth grade and latched on to the idea of a skate park in Oak Park the moment it was proposed. "I started going to meetings when I was in seventh grade; a group of my friends and I went to every task force meeting and then village board meetings," he recalls.
As he wrote in his winning essay, "the collection of ramps and rails atop a water reservoir was my labor of love."
"Labor" is an appropriate word. Ben says there literally were years of meetings, as the proposal for a skate park on top of the new water reservoir at Stevenson Park became a controversial local issue. "People would show up and say, 'What about our tennis courts? What about full-court basketball?' Neighbors worried about noise. One woman wanted a Zen garden. It seemed like anything but a skate park," he remembers.
Mark Gartland, now a park district commissioner, served on the skateboard task force with Ben. "He showed up at all the meetings, was intelligently vocal. He was a key member of the youth group," says Gartland. "We need that; politicians need to see the faces behind the decisions they're making."
Gartland, who praises Ben's "perseverance?#34;I know he got discouraged midway through"?#34;wrote a letter of recommendation for the scholarship application. When Ben won he was "overjoyed."
"These types of experiences form [kids'] outlook on life as they go forward," Gartland says.
Did the skate park experience teach Ben anything about government? "It taught me something about Oak Park government and politics," he says.
Last year, with difficult AP classes, writing for the school newspaper and a big-time commitment to hockey, Ben didn't have as much time for skateboarding as he'd have liked. When he does skate, he says, he's more likely to head to the downtown concrete skate parks than to the neighborhood park he helped found. He believes Stevenson is most attractive to younger kids, but accepts that its modular design is what it is.
"We just wanted it not to stink," he says. And, he stresses, it doesn't.
"I went yesterday. It's nice to go and not worry about traffic or anything. To just chill."
According to Gartland, kids of all ages have been using the skate park. He says in the fall, the Park District board will revisit the design and possibly change or add equipment with money set aside for the project.
In the last few months, the Meyersons received two calls from Lynn Kerr. The first call was to inform them that Ben was a finalist in the scholarship competition, which offers single $5,000, $2,000 and $500 awards, along with seven $1,000 awards. A board of trustees makes the decisions; Kerr told Ben's dad that Ben's essay was board member Tony Hawk's favorite.
"When I heard that I was hopeful for the $5,000," admits Ben. In any event, the complement from Hawk is "good bragging material," he says.
In July, Kerr called again with the news that he'd won $1,000 and a "back-to-school" package of skateboard equipment.
Ben will be attending the University of Maryland at College Park. He plans to major in journalism, with perhaps a minor in government and politics (an interest he attributes more to a terrific AP government class he took at OPRF than to his own dabble in politics). His choice of schools, though, was influenced?#34;at least a little?#34;by his hobby.
"It's a big, self-contained campus but only 10 miles from Washington, D.C. Suburban but with access to a big city, like Oak Park. Good for skateboarding," he says.