As a student at OPRF in the late ’90s, my friends and I were faced with the same question every Friday: What should we do tonight? As another school week ended, all of us were anxious to shed the learning mindset for a night or two and just have some plain old fun. The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder to myself, “What was there to do?” The options for us that guaranteed that we wouldn’t get into trouble were the pool hall, bowling in Forest Park or the movies. Does anyone really think that we were going to go through high school rotating the same three activities with the occasional morp or friends’ band performance thrown in? As a teenager in Oak Park, you run out of options quick. So, where do you turn?

The older I get, the more I see the advantages of after-school activities. What’s the fastest way for a teen to become mischievous? Unsupervised boredom. One night in high school, a group of friends and I were driving around with nothing to do. One of my friends, who was with us that night, worked at Longfellow Center at the time, and just happened to have his keys on him. So, we all went over to Longfellow, he unlocked the doors, and we went into the basement and played floor hockey for an hour or two. Had the police shown up, I’m sure all of us would’ve been issued citations and my friend would’ve been promptly fired. That’s not what I remember though. I remember how much fun I had. I remember not having that much fun in a while. I also remember being disappointed when we left, and immediately wondering if we could do the same thing the next weekend. Frankly, if the police had cited me for trespassing, I wouldn’t have cared much because that would’ve been way more interesting than anything else that happened to me around that time. Yes, I was bored. And, I was willing to risk legal repercussions to alleviate that boredom.

One thing that blew my mind about the lights at the stadium debate was that I never saw one person make the case that it would give the students at OPRF something to do. To be fair, the constant back and forth was enough for me to withdraw myself from following it from time to time, so if somebody did make that point I may have missed it. People seemed so preoccupied with their fear for what the high school students would do to their property that they forgot what a benefit it could be for the people who were actually going to utilize it. Kind of like Midnight, er, excuse me, May Madness. As is the case with a lot of things in life, perhaps we’re standing in our own way too much at times.

When I was growing up, there was a time when skateboarders were the outcasts of society. You all remember the “Skateboarding is not a crime” T-shirts, don’t you? Well, the solution was simple. You don’t want skateboarders grinding the rails of the senior citizens home? Give them a place to go. When I heard about the skate park being put in at Stevenson, I was almost shocked. I immediately thought that, in typical Oak Park fashion, here come the debates. But, when I saw the skate park, I actually said out loud, “They got it right,” and for the first time in a while I felt proud of Oak Park, as opposed to rolling my eyes like so many instances in the past.

I think things like the skate park and the basketball program at Longfellow are the types of things this community needs. Ever since the “war on drugs” was declared in the ’80s, we’ve been repeatedly shown that drugs are like roaches. You may seize hundreds of pounds of cocaine, heroin or marijuana and arrest the people in possession of them, but that’s a mere scrape of the surface and there’s plenty more where that came from. As parents, high school administrators and the police join together to crack down on drugs in the high school, I hope they recognize this as an opportunity to, well, give the students an opportunity for more recreation. You can’t eliminate drugs altogether, so why not work on coming up with a better alternative for students to spend their free time?

• Justin Collins grew up in Oak Park, graduating from OPRF in 2001. He lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

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