It’s chilly and gray on the basketball court outside Winchester Community Center. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” pumps through the speakers. Jesus has risen. He had the wind knocked out of him, but he’s up and walking, greeted with fist bumps, orchestrated handshakes and applause.
Skateboards roll across the court. They fly, shot from underfoot as skaters kickflip and jump chairs and ramps, creating the rhythms of the grace and gracelessness of skateboarding.
Richard Thomas, a.k.a. local rapper Blackie Chan, is about to perform, and a crowd gathers around him. He breaks into soft melody, “It’s been a long night/but I’m so high/and I’m not comin’ down.” The upright bass kicks in and Jazz Out the Box plays while Thomas rhymes.
This is the Good Games, an annual multimedia art event designed to expose youth in the area to the arts and promote education. On this windy Saturday, it’s drawn nearly 400 teens and families to the park where ramps, half pipes and platforms—arranged on the basketball courts—create a course where skaters compete. There are nutrition, education and anti-gang booths and a juried art exhibit. An aerosol artist works on a mural and the jazz trio performs during freestyle sessions.
Leading all of this is Hektor Esparza, who heads the skate program at Winchester Community Center and the Winchester Skate Team, both designed to promote art and education within the culture of skateboarding.
“They’re getting bad information from the streets,” says Esparza, a professional skateboarder and freelance writer. “They think the only way to success is to turn pro at skateboarding or get a good construction or hotel job. They don’t understand that they can use their creativity and intellect in a career, that they don’t just have to be laborers.
“I succeeded because I learned I can communicate.”
The skate team is the goal for many. More than 40 skateboarders turned up for its tryouts last year. There are benefits to being on the team: a new deck each month, team shirts and prestige in the neighborhood. But skaters have to bring a recent report card and proof that they’re involved in art or music, which fold right into skateboard culture. Once in, they meet weekly with their teammates and volunteer for the center.
A skateboarder for 24 years, Esparza says he was a semi-homeless teen during high school. His friends stressed the importance of graduating, rather than dropping out to pursue a professional skate career.
The meetings, also open to those not on the skate team, teach skill development and promote the benefits of graduating from high school. Earlier this month, the team toured CSN and made a stop at SPACE gallery to hear Enrique Nevarez discuss his art on display.